Ramstein Air Base

Ramstein Air Base is a United States military airbase in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz.

The east gate of Ramstein Air Base is about 16 kilometers, or 10 miles, from Kaiserslautern (locally referred to by Americans as "K-Town"). Other nearby civilian communities include Ramstein-Miesenbach, just outside the base's west gate, and Landstuhl, about five kilometers from the west gate.


The host unit at Ramstein Air Base is the United States Air Force 435th Air Base Wing, which supports the USAF 86th Airlift Wing as well as other units at the base and surrounding region.

Ramstein is a NATO support installation; it has not been given the designation of a NATO base. Canadian, German, British, U.S., French, Belgian, Polish, Czech, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch forces are located at the base. The 86th's mission is the operation and maintenance of airlift assets consisting of C-130Es, C-20s, C-21s, C-40B, and C-37A Gulfstream aircraft throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Ramstein's wings are assigned to the newly created HQ Air Command Europe also Headquartered at Ramstein AB.

The base is the largest component of the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC), where more than 16,400 American service members and more than 5,400 US civilian employees live and work. US organizations in the KMC also employ the services of more than 6,200 German workers. Air Force units in the KMC alone employ almost 9,800 military members, bringing with them nearly 11,100 family members.


Ramstein Air Base is a great example of international collaboration: designed by French engineers, constructed by Germans and operated by Americans. Construction of the 3,000-acre base began in April 1951 under the provisions of a Franco-American reciprocal agreement, as the surrounding area was under French postwar occupational control at the time.

The building of a major airfield came as no surprise to the local inhabitants who were no strangers to airpower. In 1940, construction of autobahn A-6 was stopped when a bridge that was being built across the Rhine near Mannheim collapsed killing many workers. So a part of the unused autobahn near Kaiserslautern was used as an airstrip by the Luftwaffe. The old autobahn section is still used as the access road to the east and west gates of the base and the A-6 was re-built south of the air base after World War II. The airstrip was also used by the advancing U.S. Army Air Forces during the final months of the conflict.

Enough construction was completed by 1952 that Landstuhl Air Base was opened on August 5 1952. On June 1 1953 Ramstein Air Base was opened. Landstuhl Air Base was built as an operational Air Base with the runway, control tower, ramps and other flight-related facilities and the associated flying and support units. Ramstein Air Base, on the north of Kisling Memorial Avenue was the location of Headquarters, Twelfth Air Force, and supported family housing, base exchange, commissary, dependents' schools and other administrative offices.

On February 1 1952, Det 1, 86th Fighter-Bomber Wing arrived at Landstuhl Air Base from Neubiberg Air Base. On April 27 1953, Headquarters, Twelfth Air Force was activated on Ramstein Air Base. The 86th Air Base Group was activated as the main base support unit for Landstuhl, while the 7030th HQ Support Group was the main base support unit for Ramstein.

On December 1 1957, the two bases were consolidated into the largest NATO-controlled air base in service on the continent. It was called Ramstein-Landstuhl Air Base, but later, through common usage, came by its present name, Ramstein Air Base in 1958. One legacy of the two separate air bases was that the north side of Ramstein retained a separate APO from the south side. The north side (Ramstein AB) was APO New York 09012, while the south side (Landstuhl AB) was APO New York 09009. Also separate Combat Support Groups, the 7030th for the north side, and the 86th for the south side existed. These were consolidated in the 1980s when APO AE 09094 was established as a unified postal address, and the two Combat Support units were merged into the 377th Combat Support Wing.

About 10 minutes from the Ramstein Air Base is the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC), operated by the United States Army. Although part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community, LRMC has a separate history and was never a part of Ramstein or Landstuhl Air Bases, although both facilities have utilized the medical facilities at LRMC since they were established in 1953.

NATO Command Center

From its inception, Ramstein was designed as a command base. In 1957, Ramstein provided support for NATO's HQ Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force, which moved to Ramstein from Trier AB on November 10 1957. Also on that date, HQ Twelfth Air Force was transferred to Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas and was assigned to Tactical Air Command. It was replaced by an advanced echelon of HQ USAFE. HQ Seventeenth Air Force, in turn, replaced HQ USAFE at Ramstein on November 15 1959.

On January 31 1973, several headquarters were relocated into and out of Ramstein, when Seventeenth AF moved to Sembach Air Base to make room for the expected move of HQ USAFE to Ramstein. This entire operation, code-named Creek Action, was carried out as part of the USAF's new world-wide policy of locating the most vital headquarters in thinly populated rural areas rather than near cities.

As a result of this policy change, Ramstein air base became a large multi-national NATO center: in addition to the USAFE's headquarters, it also housed the new NATO headquarters of the Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCE).

The AAFCE also commanded the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force (2ATAF) and the 4th ATAF. The 4th ATAF, which had been headquartered at Ramstein for many years, included the 1st Canadian Air Group, 1st and 2nd Divisions of Germany's Luftwaffe, and units of the USAFE's 3rd and 17th Air Force.

HQ USAFE completed its move from Wiesbaden to Ramstein on March 14.

With USAFE's arrival, Ramstein entered an unprecedented period of expansion. The commander of the 86 TFW became host commander of Americans living in the Kaiserslautern Military Community.

Allied Air Forces Central Europe was established at Ramstein on June 28 1974. Ramstein subsequently provided support for other headquarters, including the 322nd Airlift Division which arrived on June 23 1978, and SAC's 7th Air Division, which arrived on July 1 1978.

In December 1980, HQ Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force was moved from Ramstein to Heidelberg and co-located with HQ Central Army Group.

Today, the base is home to Allied Air Component Command Headquarters Ramstein, which is responsible to Joint Force Command Brunssum. Ramstein is under the command of the commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe.

Ramstein Air Base today

On July 1 1993 the 55th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron moved from the 435th AW at Rhein-Main Air Base Germany to Ramstein. On October 1, the 75th and 76th Airlift Squadron arrived at Ramstein from the 60th AW at Travis Air Force Base California, and 437th AW at Charleston AFB South Carolina, respectively. A year later on October 1 1994, the 37th Airlift Squadron was transferred to Ramstein from Rhein-Main.

With the arrival of the cargo and transport squadrons and the tactical fighters departed, the wing was re-designated the 86th Airlift Wing on October 1 1994, with the following flying squadrons:

  • 37th Airlift Squadron (C-130E, they will be replaced in 2009 by the C-130J)
  • 76th Airlift Squadron (C-20H, C-21A, C-40B)
  • 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron

Also at Ramstein is the 86th Contingency Response Group. This unit is tasked with establishing airfield and aerial port operations and providing force protection at contingency airfields. The unit was activated at Hangar 3 at Ramstein on February 26 1999, and is the first unit of its kind in the Air Force. The two subordinate units — the 86th Air Mobility and 786th Security Forces squadrons — were also stood up 26 February. The 86th CRG incorporates more than 30 different jobs into one close-knit team. It is a rapid-deployment unit designed at the initiative of Air Force leadership to be a "first-in" force to secure an airfield and establish and maintain airfield operations. The 86th CRG was created specifically to respond to the growing number of fast-moving contingency deployments today’s Air Force experienced in Europe.

In October 2000 The 75th AS provided airlift in support of evacuation operations of U.S. Navy sailors injured as a result of the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole. The mission to Yemen and Djibouti brought 28 sailors to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany.

In 2003, the 435th Air Base Wing assumed the overall host base unit at Ramstein, with the 86th Airlift Wing its operational arm.

On November 1 2005 with the inactivation of the Third Air Force, Ramstein was made part of the new HQ Air Command Europe.

From 2004 to 2006, Ramstein Air Base underwent an extensive expansion with a major construction project - which is in its finalizing stage (as of April 2007) - including an all-new airport terminal, among other new facilities, through the so-called Rhein-Main Transition Program which was initiated in support of the total closure of Rhein-Main Air Base on December 30, 2005 and transferring all its former capacities to Ramstein Air Base (70%) and Spangdahlem Air Base (30%).

While the KMC remains the largest U.S. community overseas at 53,000 people, the defense drawdown continues to shape its future. Due to the departure of other main operating installations, more than 100 geographically separated units receive support from Ramstein.

Ramstein Air Base also served as temporary housing for the United States men's national soccer team during the 2006 World Cup to provide the players' a home-field feeling. However, lacking the necessary luck, the team could not use the 'home advantage' in the Kaiserslautern Military Community and did not advance into the next round, even though their overall performance was better than most expected.

In 2006, the 86th AW acquired a sole C-40B previously operated by the 89AW at Andrews AFB to replace the C-9A Nightingale which was retired in 2005. The C9, 0876, was used to ferry the USAFE Commander to other areas in the European theater, and was not set up for medivac purposes. The C-40B, 01-0040, is configured as an airborne command post.

ADOC Kindsbach

Close to Ramstein was the site of Air Defense Operations Center - Kindsbach, AKA 'Kindsbach Cave' - the site of Europe’s underground Combat Operations Center.

The facility was located in a former German Western Front Command Headquarters. The French took control of the underground bunker after World War II, and USAFE assumed control in 1953. After major renovations, USAFE opened the Kindsbach Combat Operations Center.

The center was a state-of-the-art 67-room, 37,000-square foot facility where USAFE could have led an air war against the Soviet Union. The center had a digital “computer” to work out bombing problems, cryptographic equipment for coded message traffic and its own photo lab to develop reconnaissance photos. Responsible for an air space extending deep behind the Iron Curtain, the center interacted directly with The Pentagon, NATO, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and all USAFE bases. With its massive telephone switchboard and 80 teletype machines, the cave was plugged into everything in the outside world. The center was receiving more than 1,000 calls a day.

As a further measure of protection, the cave was fully self-contained with its own water supply, electric backup-generators, climate controls, dining facilities and sleeping accommodations for its 125-man crew. Visitor passes were rarely issued to this secret facility.

Throughout the years, leadership changed but USAFE led the operations through numbered Air Forces. The center’s commander was the USAFE Advanced Echelon. His glassed-in office was on the top floor of the three-story underground command center. Directly under his office was the management for offensive air operations. And the bottom floor office was the management for defensive air operations – to include support for U.S. Army forces and German Civil Defense. All three offices had a full view of the massive Air Operations Center map on the opposing wall.

The AOC was the largest room in the complex. Its three-story map was used to plot minute-by-minute movements of friendly and unidentified aircraft. But the center was much more than just a tracking station, because it could also react to threats. They always knew the current operational status of air weapons in theater including missiles, and could dispatch armed response “at a moment's notice.”

By the early 1960s, the manual plotting system used to track aircraft at the cave and elsewhere throughout Germany was too slow and inaccurate for the quick responses necessary. Beginning in 1962, airmen trained in the new 412L air weapons control system began to arrive in Germany and at the cave. Over the next year, the new GE semi-automatic system was installed. When complete at the cave, the current air picture over East and West Germany, as well as parts of the eastern soviet block countries, was displayed on a 40' X 40' screen. A senior US staff monitored the dynamic display 24/7. Over the next several years, additional 412L sites throughout Germany joined the network until the manual system had been totally replaced.

Time takes its toll on technology. What was advanced in one era quickly becomes obsolete in the next. By 1984, the Kindsbach Cave had become too small and its cost for renovation too high, and USAFE vacated the facility. On October 31 1993, control was returned to the German government. Today the Kindsbach Cave remains sealed – a relic of the Cold War in Europe and a monument to an air war that was won without ever having been fought.

Pictures of a June 07 bunker tour of ADOC Kindsbach are linked below.

See also


Much of this text in an early version of this article was taken from pages on the Ramstein Air Base website, which as a work of the U.S. Government is presumed to be a public domain resource. That information was supplemented by:

  • Donald, David (2004) Century Jets: USAF Frontline Fighters of the Cold War. AIRtime ISBN 1880588684
  • Endicott, Judy G. (1999) Active Air Force wings as of 1 October 1995; USAF active flying, space, and missile squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. CD-ROM.
  • Fletcher, Harry R. (1989) Air Force Bases Volume II, Active Air Force Bases outside the United States of America on 17 September 1982. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799536
  • Maurer, Maurer (1983). Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0892010924.
  • Martin, Patrick (1994). Tail Code: The Complete History of USAF Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings. Schiffer Military Aviation History. ISBN 0887405134.
  • Menard, David W. (1998) Before Centuries: USAFE Fighters, 1948-1959. Howell Press Inc. ISBN 1574270796
  • Mueller, Robert (1989). Active Air Force Bases Within the United States of America on 17 September 1982. USAF Reference Series, Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-53-6
  • Ravenstein, Charles A. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0912799129.
  • Rogers, Brian (2005). United States Air Force Unit Designations Since 1978. Hinkley, England: Midland Publications. ISBN 1-85780-197-0.
  • USAAS-USAAC-USAAF-USAF Aircraft Serial Numbers--1908 to present

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