Cruise missiles arrive at Greenham Common, November 1983
In the Spring of 1979, the NATO Nuclear Planning Group met at a USAF base in Florida to formulate a response to the growing Soviet military might. In October 1977, Chancellor Schmidt of West Germany and British Prime Minister Jim Callaghan were asking the United States to deploy new and more modern deterrent forces to NATO countries in Western Europe. The group decided on a twin track approach to the Soviets. Known as the "Double Decision", NATO members decided to both negotiate with the Soviet Union to withdraw the SS-20 missiles, and to go ahead with the deployment of a total of 572 new missiles to NATO members from 1983. If the Soviets agreed to withdraw the SS-20s, NATO would agree not to deploy the new missiles to its Western European members.
The Soviets however were hardly in the mood to negotiate. By 1979, the country was still led by the barely living Leonid Brezhnev, while its ministries were engaged in in-fighting, chronic bureaucracy, and a sense of absolute paranoia toward the West and NATO. NATO's Double Decision meant that 464 Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM's) would be deployed to Great Britain (160 in total), Italy (112), West Germany (96), Belgium (48), and the Netherlands (48). A further 108 Pershing II medium range ballistic missiles would be deployed to West Germany from 1983 to replace ageing 1960s Pershing 1a types deployed in West Germany by the US and German armies. The sense of Crisis increased through 1979. Although President Carter and Brezhnev agreed to limit Strategic range nuclear weapons with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks 2 (SALT 2) in June, the treaty did not cover any possible expansion of theatre nuclear weapons. In any case, the treaty was never ratified after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December. The invasion brought the Soviets to within just a few hundred miles of the Persian oil fields. This was a new and largely unexpected twist that suggested the Soviet Union was set on a new phase of expansionism.
On December 12th, NATO foreign and defense ministers agreed to "modernize theatre forces" by sending missiles to five NATO members by 1986. two days later, the NATO Council of Ministers approved the decision. This now meant that a whole new infrastructure had to be created to support the new missiles. The new missiles themselves had to still undergo testing and find suitable launch and control vehicles.
On January 1st 1979, the 7273rd Air Base Group was formed and had a USAF Base Commander appointed. At that time, the base was still occupied by a small staff on standby status but activity on the base increased gradually. On June 17th 1980, the British Government announced that Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire would be the two cruise bases in Britain. Greenham Common would also be the very first base in Europe to receive its first flight of 16 missiles in late 1983. Molesworth had also been a USAF base during the 1950s. NATO aimed to have the first missiles operational at Greenham and Comiso in Sicily, Italy by December 1983.
In 1981, a vast program of works began at the base to support the deployments.