This 104th Fighter Wing F-15C Eagle from the Massachusetts ANG taxies out at Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands
Operating as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the aircraft was participating in exercise Frisian Flag at the time of the photo
The first ever European TSP was conducted in February 2015 by the 355th Fighter Wing and their A-10C Thunderbolt IIs
The 100th Air Refueling Wing from RAF Mildenhall also played a major role in exercise Iron Hand
One of their KC-135R Stratotanker's is seen here powering out of its home base
Raptor #05-4106 is seen about to taxi out to Runway 24 at RAF Lakenheath on 3rd May 2016
The F-22s thrust-vectoring engine nozzles can clearly be seen in the image above
This feature of the Raptor gives the aircraft a much greater degree of manoeuvrablity
Theater Security Packages; Amid rising tensions with Russia, February 2015 saw the U.S Air Force deploy 12 Fairchild A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft from the 355th Fighter Wing, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, as part of the first European Theater Security Package (TSP) in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve (OAR). This and future TSPs were designed to augment U.S Air Force Europe's existing efforts by conducting flying training deployments and off-station training with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to further enhance their inter-operability. Operation Atlantic Resolve is a demonstration of U.S European Command (USEUCOM) and United States Air Forces in Europe's continued commitment to the collective security of NATO and its dedication to the enduring peace and stability in the region. "The Air Force has been rotating forces as a part of OAR for the past year," said Lt. General Tom Jones. "The TSP is another way the Air Force is increasing rotational presence in Europe to reassure our allies and partner nations that our commitment to European security is a priority." Whilst in Germany, the Davis-Monthan based A-10 unit conducted training alongside several NATO allies, later forward deploying to a number of locations in Eastern European NATO nations. The 355th Fighter Wing (FW) A-10s were the first of several TSP deployments to Europe in 2015, the rotations generally lasting a period of around six months, depending on mission and USEUCOM requirements.
Seen over UK skies on 19th April, aircraft #04-4095, carries '95FS' markings on the aircraft's vertical fins
The aircraft is captured by the camera on an exercise 'Iron Hand' mission
While at RAF Lakenheath, the F-22s participated in exercise Iron Hand 16-3, conducting training with all three of the 48th Fighter Wing's resident squadrons, and also with the BAe Typhoons from RAF Coningsby. The Raptors also forward deployed to Romania and Lithuania; and participated in the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the 'Lafayette Escadrille' with a flypast over Paris. "Deploying Raptors here and integrating with our efforts in these areas has been a phenomenal success," Novotny said. "During their deployment, we were able to integrate seamlessly into some of the largest fighter exercises in Europe."
The first ERI deployment saw four F-22 Raptors and 60 airmen from the 95th Fighter Squadron arrive at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, on 28th August 2015, with support from a single Boeing C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft from the 60th Airlift Wing. During the deployment the aircraft and airmen trained with allied and other U.S forces through to mid-September. "This inaugural Raptor training deployment is the perfect opportunity for these advanced aircraft to train alongside other U.S Air Force aircraft, our joint partners, and NATO allies," Gen. Frank Gorenc (US Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander), said at the time. The training is designed to prove that fifth-generation fighter jets can successfully deploy to European bases and other NATO installations, as well as familiarize pilots with the regional theatre. The deployment also will gives the planes a chance to conduct combat air training with different U.S and European jets, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon. "It’s important we test our infrastructure, aircraft capabilities and the talented airmen and allies who will host 5th generation aircraft in Europe," Gorenc said. "This deployment advances our airpower evolution and demonstrates our resolve and commitment to European safety and security."
Since 2015, the European Reassurance Initiative budget has since been increased substantially to $1 billion, which enables the U.S to increase the number of exercises, training and its rotational presence across Europe. This has seen the increased responsiveness of U.S forces to NATO; increased the U.S Navy's deployments to the Black Sea and Baltic Sea; and also built 'partner capacity' with countries such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, so that those countries can better work alongside the United States and NATO, as well as providing their own defence.
And so we move onto 2016; the first TSP package arriving at Leeuwarden Air Base (some aircraft having made an unscheduled stop-over at RAF Lakenheath, U.K) on the 4th and 6th April. The eight F-15s came from the 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard; and the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Following their arrival in the Netherlands, the F-15 Eagles and nearly 250 Airmen and support equipment from the 131st Fighter Squadron, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, and the 194th Fighter Squadron, Fresno ANGB, California, commenced flight operations in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve on 11th April. Under the designation of the 131st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS), the eight F-15s were accompanied by a further four aircraft which detached to Keflavik to conduct Icelandic Air Patrol, aircraft which later re-joined the squadron as the TSP deployment continued. Since the closure of the NATO base at Keflavik, Iceland, almost ten years ago, Russia has continued to fly its aircraft into Icelandic airspace on a regular basis and almost unchallenged. So as Iceland has no military force of its own and due to its important strategic position, NATO made the decision to deploy a small alert fighter unit to the island on a rotational basis, with a number of different countries supporting the mission. The aircraft provide a 24-hour QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) and are 'scrambled' upon detection of unknown aircraft, intercept those aircraft and then identify and direct them out of Icelandic airspace. The ANG F-15 deployment to Europe was also supplemented by airmen from both Spangdahlem and Ramstein Air Bases in Germany and the deployment is scheduled to continue until 30th September.
Crucial in bringing the F-22A Raptor over to Europe for the deployments is air-to-air refuelling
One of the 95th Fighter Squadron aircraft is seen here approaching the refuelling boom of a KC-135R Stratotanker
Final checks are carried out on this 'Grim Reapers' F-15C, whilst the pilot waits patiently in the air conditioned cockpit
The Eagle was about to fly a DACT mission with the 95th Fighter Squadron F-22A Raptors
The General went on to highlight how historically the U.S Air Force's presence in Europe had declined from a peak of 25 major operating air bases to just five, and from a force that once numbered around 800 aircraft to one that now has around just 200; whilst at the same time the number of allies and partners the U.S has, has grown within the last quarter century. "What's important to us over here in Europe is to leverage the Airmen we have based here down to five major bases, to help enable those deployments for our Air Force to come over here and work with our allies and partners," he said. "Our ability to have these rotational forces to come in and augment our forces in Europe is very important to our overall strategy and working with our partner nations and reassuring our allies."
Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor
The F-22 Raptor is the Air Force's newest fighter aircraft. Its combination of stealth, super-cruise, manoeuvrability, and integrated avionics represent an exponential leap in warfighting capabilities over its F-15 Eagle predecessor. The Raptor can perform both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, allowing full realization of operational concepts vital to the 21st century Air Force. The F-22 is a critical component of the Global Strike Task Force and is designed to project air dominance; rapidly and at great distances. The F-22 is unmatched by any current fighter, its combination of improved sensor capability, integrated avionics, situational awareness, and weapons, providing it with a ‘first-kill’ opportunity against threats. It possesses a sophisticated sensor suite allowing the pilot to track, identify, shoot and kill air-to-air threats before ever being detected. Significant advances in cockpit design and sensor fusion also improve the pilot's situational awareness. It has a range in excess of 1,850 miles with two external wing fuel tanks and a surface ceiling of 50,000ft. Armed with one M61A2 20mm cannon, its external side weapon bays carry two AIM-9 infrared air-to-air missiles and its internal main weapon bays can carry six AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles (air-to-ground loadout). A total of 183 F-22 Raptors are in the USAF inventory. In the air-to-air role the Raptor can carry up to six AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AIM-9 Sidewinders. In the air-to-ground configuration, the F-22 can carry two 1,000lb GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) internally and will use on-board avionics for navigation and weapons delivery. In the future, its air-to-ground capability will be enhanced with the addition of an upgraded radar and up to eight small diameter bombs. The F-22's two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 turbofan engines with afterburners and two-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzles, each provide 35,000lb of thrust and produce more thrust than any current fighter. The combination of its sleek aerodynamic design and increased thrust allows the F-22 to cruise at supersonic airspeeds without using afterburner -- a characteristic known as super-cruise. Super-cruise greatly expands the F-22's operating envelope in both speed and range over current fighters, which must use fuel-consuming afterburner to operate at supersonic speeds. Its combination of stealth, integrated avionics and super-cruise drastically shrinks surface-to-air missile engagement envelopes and minimizes enemy capabilities to track and engage the F-22. Designed as Lockheed-Martin’s entry for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) programme, it entered the Demonstration and Validation phase in 1986, the prototype YF-22’s completing their first flights in late 1990.The test programme, it entered the Demonstration and Validation phase in 1986, the prototype YF-22’s completing their first flights in late 1990.The test programme received approval to enter low-rate initial production in 2001. Initial operational and test evaluation by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center was successfully completed in 2004, with approval for full rate production being given in 2005.
#84-0014 was one of three Fresno-based F-15s that participated in Frisian Flag 2016
We would like to thank the following for their assistance in completing this article;
SSgt Stephanie Longoria (48th FW)
TSgt Eric Burkes (48th FW)
MSgt Darrick Thompson (95th FS)
SrA Victoria Taylor (100th ARW)
SrA Justine Rho (100th ARW)
McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle
The F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, tactical fighter designed to gain and maintain air supremacy over the battlefield. The Eagle's air superiority is achieved through a mixture of unprecedented manoeuvrability, acceleration, range, weapons and avionics. The F-15 has electronic systems and weaponry to detect, acquire, track and attack enemy aircraft whilst operating in friendly or enemy-controlled airspace. Its superior manoeuvrability and acceleration are achieved through high engine thrust-to-weight ratio and low wing loading. Low wing-loading (the ratio of aircraft weight to its wing area) is a vital factor in manoeuvrability and, combined with the high thrust-to-weight ratio, it enables the F-15 to turn tightly without losing airspeed.
The multi-mission avionics system sets the F-15 apart and includes a cockpit head-up display (HUD), advanced radar, inertial navigation system, UHF communications, tactical navigation system (TACAN) and instrument landing system (ILS). It also has an internally mounted, tactical electronic-warfare system, identification friend or foe (IFF), electronic countermeasures (ECM) set and a central digital computer. The pilot's HUD projects all essential flight information gathered by the integrated avionics system onto the windshield, providing the information necessary to track and destroy an enemy aircraft without having to look down at cockpit instruments. The F-15's Pulse-Doppler radar system can look up at high-flying targets and down at low-flying targets without it being confused by ground clutter. It can detect and track aircraft and small high-speed targets at distances from close-range to beyond visual range (BVR) and at altitudes down to treetop level. For close-in dogfights, the radar automatically acquires enemy aircraft, and this information is projected on the head-up display. The F-15's electronic warfare system provides both threat warning and automatic countermeasures against selected threats. A variety of air-to-air weaponry can be carried by the F-15. The automated weapon system enabling the pilot to perform aerial combat safely and effectively. The Eagle can be armed with a combination of different air-to-air weapons; AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAM) on its lower fuselage pylons, AIM-9L/M Sidewinder or AIM-120 missiles on two pylons under the wings, and an internal 20mm Gatling gun in the right wing root.
The first TSP was soon followed by 12 McDonnell-Douglas F-15C Eagles from the Florida Air National Guard's (ANG) 150th Fighter Squadron (FS)/125th Fighter Wing (FW) and the Oregon ANG's 123rd FS/142nd FW on 3rd March 2015, which re-positioned to Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands. The F-15C Eagles formed around the 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, and deployed to Europe as the first TSP ever undertaken by an ANG unit. After their participation in exercise Frisian Flag 2015, the EFS moved onto Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria on 11th May.
Late August 2015 saw the first ever deployment of four Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptors to Europe as part of the ongoing Theater Security Packages, the Raptors arriving in Germany, before moving onto Poland and ultimately Estonia. Looking forward to 2016 and following the successful deployment of the Raptor in 2015, General Frank Gorenc (Commander, U.S Air Forces in Europe) said in December 2015; "For me, it was very important to introduce the F-22 to see how we could fly it in the airspace and how we could support it. I'm working really hard to make 2016 a copy of this year with respect to that."
The final TSP of 2015 was conducted by the 74th Fighter Squadron, which deployed its A-10s to Graf Ignatievo (as the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron), completing its six-month TSP to Eastern Europe on 18th March 2016. Approximately 350 Airmen accompanied the 12 A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft, which deployed from the 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. During the deployment the squadron's A-10s trained at multiple bases across Europe, including Amari Air Base, Estonia; Kecskemet, Hungary; and Campia Turzii Air Base, Romania. In total the aircraft participated in 13 events and exercises, visiting 15 countries and conducting 1,193 sorties in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Seen on approach to Leeuwarden Air Base, this 104th Fighter Wing F-15C carries a Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) on the fuselage centreline pylon
F-15s from the 159th EFS taxi out for a mission during the first Air National Guard TSP deployment to Europe
The 493rd Fighter Squadron 'Grim Reapers' flew missions with the Raptors during their U.K deployment
One of their F-15C Eagles is seen in the image above, carrying a distinctive 'MiG-kill' marking below the cockpit
Four Raptors are seen on the 'Last Chance Checkpoint' at Lakenheath, prior to an afternoon mission on 3rd May
Exercise 'Iron Hand 16-3' Exercise Iron Hand was the name given to the F-22 missions flown during their time in the U.K and involved a number of United States Air Force and Royal Air Force units. Aircraft from both United States Air Force UK-based wings (48th Fighter Wing and 100th Air Refueling Wing) participated, along with the 95th Fighter Squadron and their F-22 Raptors, which were on a 'Rapid-Raptor' mission to RAF Lakenheath at the time. Alongside the USAF units, 3 Squadron of the Royal Air Force at RAF Coningsby flew their British Aerospace (BAe) Typhoon FGR.4 aircraft against the F-22s, building on previous similar recent exercises in the United States. The Raptors, Eagles, Strike Eagles and Typhoons flew numerous missions together and against each other, using various DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics) and COMAO (Combined Air Operations) missions. Unlike previous Iron Hand exercises, which incorporated USAF units from Germany (Spangdahlem) and Italy (Aviano), 2016 only saw U.K-based participation.
On 22nd April, almost two weeks after the F-22s deployed to RAF Lakenheath, two of the Raptors flew to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Constanta, Romania. The aircraft were supported by 20 airmen from the 95th FS, along with a single Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from the 916th Air Refeuling Wing (ARW) based at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The two F-22s returned to RAF Lakenheath later the same day. Lt. Gen. Timothy Ray (3rd Air Force commander) said during a press conference; "Romania is one of our strongest allies, and today I would like to highlight this deployment as a demonstration of our promise to support Romania and the rest of our NATO allies. Today, we rapidly deployed these aircraft, along with a KC-135 Stratotanker, to showcase our flexible response and our range of capabilities," Ray explained. "These aircraft have the ability to project air dominance quickly, at great distances, to defeat any possible threat." As if to re-inforce the ability to forward deploy, on the 27th April, another two F-22 Raptors flew from Lakenheath to Lithuania on a similar mission, thus demonstrating the USAF's ability to deploy the aircraft across Europe. As with the aircraft that deployed to Romania on the 22nd, the two aircraft returned to RAF Lakenheath shortly thereafter.
April 2016 saw the U.S Air Force once again deploy the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor to Europe, with Airmen and associated equipment arriving at RAF Lakenheath, England on 11th April to conduct training with other European based aircraft. The F-22 Raptors deployed from the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and continued their training in the United Kingdom until the middle of May.
Whilst at RAF Lakenheath the 5th generation, multi-role fighter aircraft also forward deployed from the U.K to other NATO bases so as to maximize their training opportunities, affirm enduring commitments to NATO allies, and deter any actions that destabilize regional security. The training marks the second time the U.S European Command has hosted a deployment of F-22 aircraft in the EUCOM Area of Responsibility, the F-22s having previously deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany in 2014.
Operating as the 95th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS), the first four aircraft, which are assigned to the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall AFB, Florida (#04-4081, 05-4095, 05-4101 and 05-4106), arrived at RAF Lakenheath after their trans-Atlantic flight on 11th April as Tabor 41-44 Flight. A further four arrived on 12th April (#04-4072, 04-4080, 05-4094 and 05-4107) as Tabor 21-24 Flight, with the remainder arriving on 17th April (#05-4084, 05-4086, 05-4089 and 05-4091) as Tabor 31-34 flight.
This is the largest F-22 deployment to Europe to date, and is partially funded by the European Reassurance Initiative, which provides support to bolster the security of NATO allies and partners in Europe whilst also demonstrating the U.S commitment to regional and global security. The F-22 deployment to RAF Lakenheath and the other bases the F-22s flew into during the deployment, proved that European bases and other NATO installations can host 5th generation fighters whilst also affording the chance for familiarization flight training within the European theatre of operations. "It's important we test our infrastructure, aircraft capabilities, and the talented Airmen and allies who will host these aircraft in Europe," said Gen. Frank Gorenc (U.S Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander); "This deployment advances our airpower evolution and demonstrates our resolve and commitment to European safety and security."
Following an opportunity to photograph an air-to-air mission with the Raptors, Master Sgt. Darrick Thompson, who deployed with the 95th FS to RAF Lakenheath told us; "the 95th's deployment is not part of Operation Atlantic Resolve or any of the current TSP's. The movement had a few goals; To deploy under the 'Rapid Raptor' concept; to move quickly, in an efficient manner and be ready to begin flying operations as soon as possible; To participate in exercise 'Iron Hand' with the 48th Fighter Wing, the RAF and other NATO partners; To expand the list of airfields that can support F-22 operations; To reassure our commitment to our NATO allies. Really, it's an overall mirror of the 95th FS deployment to Germany last year with four jets, but to the U.K and on a larger scale."
According to 1st Lt. Jolly Foss, a 95th Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptor pilot, training with the Typhoons was one of the main objectives for deploying to the United Kingdom. "There's different capabilities here, different air space that we don't have access to back home and being able to integrate with the three F-15 squadrons (at RAF Lakenheath) and with the Typhoons has allowed us to go through our exercise objectives." Foss explained the different type of training sorties while deployed to the United Kingdom. "We had some long sorties, where you send anywhere between 10-12 jets on the 'blue' side against ten aircraft on the 'red' side, tactical sorties, where we look into destroying targets on the ground; and strictly defensive counter-air, which is keeping the enemy from approaching that line," Foss said. "Sending the Raptors into Low Fly Area 7 (known as the Mach Loop in Wales) was an opportunity for their low-altitude qualified pilots to see first-hand, the amazing training opportunities we have in the United Kingdom. The training ranges and low flying airspace here are some of the best in the world," said Novotny. "The intent of the exercise was to show the capabilities of 'Rapid Raptors' by taking two F-22s to Lithuania and Romania, along with our support assets on a tanker, and being able to go anywhere in the world with very little co-ordination and notice," said Foss.
During exercise 'Iron Hand 16-3', the Lakenheath Strike Eagles flew COMAO missions with the 'Boneheads' Raptors
The pilot of this Mud-Hen is fixated as he maintains a tight formation with our photo-ship
At commencement of the ANG deployment, U.S Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric Vollmecke (Air National Guard mobilization assistant to the U.S Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa commander) explained; "This is just another great example of the U.S Air Force's ability to pack up very quickly and deploy its forces and personnel into various nations throughout Europe and the globe. What's very unique about the U.S Air Force is that - with or without our active, guard, reserve and national guard components - everybody is training to the same standard and is always ready to go. It gives us as an Air Force, a great amount of flexibility, so we can bring parts of multiple units together and create an expeditionary unit."
The California Air National Guard's 194th Fighter Squadron also participated in the latest F-15 TSP
#05-4101 was one of the first Raptors to arrive in the U.K as part of 'Tabor 41' flight on 11th April
It is seen here during an 'Iron Hand' mission over the United Kingdom, flying as 'Warman 13' on 19th April
Moving into 2016 and following the further deployment of ANG F-15 Eagles to Europe, U.S. Air Force Major General Scott Rice, Massachusetts National Guard adjutant general, said "The TSP's intent is to demonstrate capability not only to our coalition partners, but to also send a message to those who want to cause destabilizing aggression across the world. We're sending a message to all players, that destabilizing aggression is not good for anyone. The TSP is integral to 'Atlantic Resolve' and how it presents forces all across Europe, the Atlantic and the United States, too." Rice also added how the TSP has changed the way people should think about how they view the term ‘total force’ as it relates to active, guard and reserve capabilities. "I look at total force as every single person who has U.S Air Force on their uniform and all of the civilians who work just as hard as those who are in uniform," said Rice. "Every capability we bring to the table is part of what makes us innovative and special for the U.S government and the world and how we fly, fight, and ultimately win in all of our conflicts."
Colonel David Eaglin, the Deputy Commander of the 48th Fighter Wing, speaking on the 14th April during a welcome ceremony at RAF Lakenheath; "the deployment of the 'Boneheads' (as the 95th Fighter squadron is known) will provide personnel with a chance to operate alongside their NATO allies and partners." The F-22s will train alongside the Royal Air Force British Aerospace (Bae) Typhoon GR.4s of 3(F) Squadron from RAF Coningsby during the week commencing 18th April, 3(F) Squadron having previously worked with the F-22A Raptors whilst at exercise 'Red Flag', earlier this year.
Air Commodore Ian Duguid, the RAF's Typhoon Force Commander, was also at the welcome briefing and said; "Both the RAF and USAF are keen to continue the inter-operability and integration of the Typhoon with the fifth-generation F-22, it is what we have been doing during our visits to 'Red Flag' and 'Western Zephyr'." Both sides are keen to develop their standard tactical procedures (STP) for the fourth-generation/fifth-generation jets, work seen as vital with the introduction into service of the fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II in 2018. General Gorenc went on to add; " It's important we test our infrastructure, aircraft capabilities, and the talented airmen and allies who will host these aircraft in Europe. This deployment advances our airpower evolution and demonstrates our resolve and commitment to European safety and security."
Flying in conjunction with the Raptors whilst on their U.K deployment were the F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath
#91-0320, marked for the 494th Fighter Squadron is seen here over the North Sea whilst on a mission during exercise 'Iron Hand 16-3' on 19th April
The Raptor may not be the most attractive aircraft from certain angles, but it is most certainly effective in its role
This Massachussets Air Guard F-15C Eagle powers out of Leeuwarden during Frisian Flag
The F-22s conducted training with the 3(F) Squadron Typhoon GR.4s from RAF Coningsby whilst in the U.K
The two sets of aircraft had previously crossed swords at the Red Flag and Western Zephyr exercises in the United States
A Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptor from the 95th Fighter Squadron is captured over U.K airspace during the unit's deployment to RAF Lakenheath
During their deployment to Europe, the eight F-15 Eagles at Leeuwarden also participated in exercise Frisian Flag 2016, a multi-lateral exercise hosted by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, marking the second year running that the U.S Air National Guard had attended Frisian Flag under the scope of Operation Atlantic Resolve. "Once again, this is a great opportunity for the United States, and we welcome our opportunity to come up here to the Netherlands," Vollmecke said. "The air space is great. This is a very high-end exercise for us to participate in, and we're happy to be here." Aircraft and personnel from the United States, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Finland, Poland, the United Kingdom and Germany participated in Frisian Flag 2016, which took place the 11th-22nd April. The aims of the exercise also work within the overall objective of the Theater Security Package, said U.S Air Force and Massachusetts ANG Lt. Col. David Halasi-Kun, 131st EFS commander. "Our biggest goal is to inter-operate with all of our NATO partners and to build those relationships for any future need, or to be closer tied to people who may or may not be deployed with us in contingency operations," Halasi-Kun said.
The 12 F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron, along with the 200+ Airmen completed their month-long deployment to RAF Lakenheath on 8th May. The historic deployment is the largest Raptor deployment in Europe to date and is part of their Global Response Force training. "The F-22 deployment to RAF Lakenheath makes perfect sense," said Col Robert Novotny, 48th Fighter Wing commander. "Lakenheath is the home of combat fighter aviation in Europe; it's the place where we work with our NATO allies to sharpen our tactical skills and re-affirm our commitment to the alliance."
#63-7999 is seen on a sunny morning at RAF Mildenhall, waiting for its crew to board before an 'Iron Hand' mission
On this particular mission the KC-135 supported both F-15E Strike Eagles and F-22A Raptors
#84-0028 proudly displays the markings of the 104th Fighter Wing and the ANG 'Minuteman' on the aircraft's fin-tips
Along with the California ANG, 2016 was the second year running the 'Guard' bought F-15s to Europe for a TSP
United States Air Force
Theater Security Packages
European Reassurance Initiative
The pilot of this Eagle waits patiently as one of the 'Boneheads' Raptors comes into land at RAF Lakenheath
The United States began to increase its rotations through Europe after Russia had firstly annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine in February 2014 and then invaded the eastern Ukraine. Although the fighting has since died down as Russia turned its attention towards Syria, the underlying tension with Russia has not been resolved and so General Gorenc feels he has a “strong argument” for requesting airmen and aircraft to continue to rotate through Europe. “I can clearly describe the cause and effect and the ability of air to contribute to the assurance that we’re doing,” he said. Russia has layered its sophisticated surface-to-air missiles in Crimea and its Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and Lithuania, and whilst these air defences are not impenetrable, it would be a “significant achievement” to neutralize them, said Gorenc. Rotating U.S aircraft through Europe is meant more to demonstrate the United States' commitment to its NATO allies than to deter Russia; “I don’t know if it’s deterring Russia or not, but I do know that it’s assuring our partners,” Gorenc said. “The fact that we bring U.S aircraft — albeit in a rotational mode — over and exercise in the robust way that we are, that’s very reassuring to our allies. I see that and I hear that and our allies are grateful for it.” The number of airmen rotating through Europe in 2016 should be “pretty much a carbon copy of 2015, but that doesn’t mean the same type of aircraft will return to the continent” said Gorenc.
During their participation in Frisian Flag, the Air National Guard F-15's proved to be the pre-eminent air superiority fighter participating in the exercise, with the highly trained support staff and maintainers ensuring an impressive 98% aircraft availability throughout. "The jets and personnel have exceeded performance expectations and our international partners have repeatedly complimented the professionalism and performance of the 131st," said Lt. Col. Halasi-Kun. After FF2016 came to an end, the 131st EFS re-deployed to Bulgaria "to continue its overall mission to strengthen inter-operability and demonstrate the continuing U.S commitment to a Europe that is whole, free, at peace, secure, prosperous and able to deter aggression."
The Eagle's huge dorsal air brake is shown to good effect as it comes in to land
European Reassurance Initiative; During the month of March 2014, the U.S Air Force had announced that they would begin to send their 5th generation Lockheed-Martin F-22A Raptors to Europe for the first time, just a matter of weeks after the Pentagon had begun openly calling Russia 'the greatest threat to the United States'. The planned deployment would be part of the new European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), a Pentagon effort to soothe anxiety amongst its European allies in the face of increased Russian aggression. Since then, the United States has taken action both bi-laterally and through NATO, to reassure its allies of its commitment to their security and territorial integrity as members of the NATO alliance. To illustrate this commitment, a persistent air, land and sea presence by the United States, particularly in central and eastern Europe has become increasingly necessary. With concerns over Russia's occupation and attempted annexation of the Crimea and provinces of the eastern Ukraine, NATO allies in the region have been shown that the U.S commitment is not just backed up by words.
Seen just after touching down after a mission from RAF Lakenheath, the smoke from the tyres is visible behind the aircraft