The Army will restructure the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, cutting about 1,900 military positions and about 2,850 family members from Germany by September 2016, the Defense Department announced Wednesday.
The brigade is not being inactivated, officials said. Instead, the Army will retain a headquarters element of the 12th CAB in Katterbach, Germany, to command all U.S. Army Europe aviation, and the brigade will be augmented by rotational units from the United States.
About 1,900 soldiers will leave Germany as part of the restructure, but about 1,300 will remain by the fall of 2016.
Of those 1,300 soldiers, about 800 will be stationed in Germany while about 500 will be rotational, said Matthew Bourke, an Army spokesman.
Also being cut from Germany are 24 AH-64 Apaches, 30 UH-60 Black Hawks, three CH-47 Chinooks and nine HH-60 medevac Black Hawks, said Lt. Col. Don Peters, an Army spokesman.
The cuts are part of the Army's sweeping Aviation Restructuring Initiative, which includes eliminating the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior from the Army's inventory and inactivating the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The controversial five-year restructuring initiative also uses the AH-64 Apache to fill the Kiowa's reconnaissance and scout role, requiring the Army to pull Apaches from the National Guard inventory to fill the gap. The Army, in turn, would provide the Guard with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, a move that has been decried by Guard advocates.
Overall, the cuts are part of a series of reductions the Army is making as it draws down to an end-strength of 490,000. So far, the Army has announced 13 brigade combat team inactivations and a massive restructuring of its remaining BCTs.
More cuts are expected to follow as the Army shrinks even further after this year.
But the cuts also come as the U.S. works to reassure its European allies in the face of Russian aggression.
The U.S. military's Operation Atlantic Resolve in late March expanded into Romania and Bulgaria, in addition to the three Baltic States and Poland. The Army in Europe also recently completed Operation Dragoon Ride, where soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment who were wrapping up their Atlantic Resolve rotations "road marched" their Strykers back to their home station in Vilseck, Germany.
The year-old Operation Atlantic Resolve was launched to demonstrate U.S. commitment to NATO as Russia annexed the Crimea region, secured a vital port in the Black Sea and sponsored a civil war in Eastern Ukraine that has claimed thousands of lives.
The U.S. military's combat capability in Europe will not be degraded by the restructuring, Bourke said.
"The restructuring of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade will improve efficiencies, enhance our capabilities and ensure we are ready and able to address current and future security challenges," he said. "The Army is confident that with the mix of permanently stationed and rotating aviation assets, U.S. Army Europe will be able to fully meet its commitments to [European Command] and other combatant commands."
As the 12th CAB is restructured and the unit shrinks from about 3,000 soldiers, the Army will maintain its aviation capabilities through rotational units, according to the Defense Department announcement.
After the restructuring, 64 helicopters will remain stationed in Europe, Bourke said.
This includes 24 Apaches, 10 Black Hawks and eight CH-47 Chinook helicopters. There also will be 16 fixed-wing and UH-72 Lakota support aircraft and six medical evacuation helicopters, Bourke said.
The rotational aviation units will include an additional 26 Black Hawks – 20 for lift and six for medevac – plus another 10 in the U.S. that are ready to deploy if needed.
These units will rotate for nine months at a time, with no gap between rotations, Bourke said.
The rotating units will support Operation Atlantic Resolve and major training exercises in Central and Eastern Europe and Germany.
Aviation soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division, who are already serving in Europe, will continue to meet requirements for aviation assets in Europe as the restructure begins, Bourke said.
Staff writer Joe Gould contributed to this report.