09/21/2015: A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels Danish F-16s over Southwest Asia in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, August 30, 2015.
Credit:U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs:8/30/15
According to Gary Schaub, Jr.:
Denmark has been a stalwart ally of the United States since 1999, participating in operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, and off of the Horn of Africa, and transporting chemical weapons out of Syria. Last September, Denmark reacted quickly and enthusiastically to the American call to join the anti-Islamic State coalition, contributing a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft early on, 7 F-16s, and 120 soldiers to train Iraqi security forces.
The Danish parliament overwhelmingly approved these deployments and the new Danish government of Lars Løkke Rassmussen has pledged to extend the mission when its mandate expires in October, but it is unclear whether the Danish military can continue.
The ability of this small country to sustain its deployments for years on end has impressed American defense officials, but it is now cracking under the strain of defense cuts and sustained operations.
The latest alarm came from the chief of the Royal Danish Air Force. Recently, Maj. Gen. M.A.L.T. Nielsen said, “We have a group of employees who have undertaken an extraordinary effort. We engaged in Iraq in October 2014 and have flown more than 4,000 hours, more than 410 missions, and have dropped more than 350 bombs. We cannot continue to do this.”
Nielsen pointed to the ongoing strain that flying combat missions has put on his aged F-16s, but, more pointedly, to a shortage of mechanics to maintain them. The lack of support personnel is a long-term problem for the Danish air force exacerbated by budget cuts. Thirty out of 210 positions for mechanics are vacant and will not be filled anytime soon because it takes 4–5 years to adequately train a competent aircraft maintenance technician.
Furthermore, a large cohort of mechanics is reaching retirement age and cannot be replaced with the current training pipeline. Unfortunately, this high-demand, low-density career field has been neglected in favor of other priorities — such as purchasing adequate supplies of precision-guided munitions — given fiscal constraints.