March 20, 2015 (by SSgt. Evelyn Chavez) - Airmen and aircraft assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing departed Aviano Air Base, Italy, March 20, 2015 to participate in bilateral training with the Estonian air force and simultaneous but unrelated training with the Finnish and Swedish air forces in their airspace.
USAF F-16D block 40 #89-2178 from the 510th FS takes off from Aviano AB on March 20th, 2015. Airmen and aircraft assigned to the 31st FW will participate in bilateral training with the Estonian Air Force and simultaneous but unrelated training with the Finnish and Swedish Air Forces in their airspace. [USAF photo by SSgt. Evelyn Chavez]
The 510th Fighter Squadron will launch sorties from Ämari Air Base, Estonia, March 20 through April 17. Training with the Estonian air force will take place on nearby Tapa Range with Estonian Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. The focus is to maintain joint readiness while enhancing interoperability with a NATO
ally, particularly in the F-16 Fighting Falcon's Forward Air Controller (Airborne) mission. The other training event with the Finnish and Swedish air forces will focus on air-to-air tactics that also increases interoperability.
"Through these strengthened relationships and engagements with our allies and partners, the U.S. demonstrates its shared commitment to a safe and secure Eastern Europe," said Lt. Col. Christopher Austin, 510th FS
commander. "Even as we're strengthening ties with our proven, indispensable European partners, the training conducted is going to enhance our ability to employ our aircraft as multi-role fighters."
Approximately 280 Airmen and 14 Vipers from Team Aviano will work alongside their Estonian partners, who have become a key example of pursuing the smart defense endorsed by Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Gen. Frank Gorenc, NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander.
"The FAC (A) mission is one of the most challenging missions we engage in," said Austin. "It enables us to provide precision support to troops in contact with the enemy, and training on it with our Estonian partners leverages specialization--a cornerstone of smart defense."
Estonia first hosted U.S. Air Force aircraft during the second Baltic Challenge in 1997 when a C-130 Hercules landed at Ämari. This exercise was a key Partnership for Peace program training event. Estonia, Finland, and Sweden all joined the PFP in 1994, and membership has grown to 22 countries today. Estonia joined NATO in 2004, and in September 2009, Tallinn International Airport hosted 2 F-15E Strike Eagles from the 494th FS for a NATO training exercise. Ämari welcomed A-10 Warthogs from the Michigan Air National Guard in June 2012 for Saber Strike.
This month's training opportunity with the Finnish and Swedish air forces is another important step in growing the scope and success of U.S. Air Force's "Forward-Ready-Now!" posture in the European theater, and affords the 31st FW Wyverns another tremendous opportunity to hone their operational skills from a forward operating location.