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Spangdahlem, Mildenhall train to ensure Baltic air sovereignty

April 9, 2009 (by Maj. Cristin Marposon) - Aircrews from Spangdahlem Air Base and RAF Mildenhall participated in the NATO Baltic Air Sovereignty Training Event April 7 with the air forces of six other nations.

A PolAF F-16 receives fuel from a USAF KC-135 assigned to the 100th ARW during the NATO Baltic Air Sovereignty Training Event on April 7th, 2009. Seven nations' air forces, participated in the event, which took place in the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. [USAF photo by SSgt. Jerry Fleshman]

"This was a great opportunity to plan, fly, and debrief with our NATO partners," said Maj. Brian Jackson, operations officer with the 22nd Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem AB, and lead pilot for fighter wing's participation. "We definitely have a better understanding of each other's capabilities and are a more capable combat team because of the event."

The one-day NATO BAST-E aimed to improve how the multinational air forces work together and integrate capabilities in preparation for member nations' rotational deployments to fulfill the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. Airmen from the air forces of the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland participated.

"Besides the training value, BAST-E was an excellent opportunity for NATO to demonstrate commitment and solidarity to the Baltic states," explained German Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Hartwig, the operations officer in charge of BAST-E at CC-Air HQ Ramstein, Germany, NATO's air component headquarters north of the Alps.

F-16 pilots from the 22nd Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, trained with pilots flying Polish and Danish F-16s, Czech L-159s, Lithuanian L-39s and Estonian An-2s, all of which operated from their home bases, to perform air policing and air defense. Additionally, a NATO E-3A from Geilenkirchen, Germany, provided airborne warning and control, while the Control and Reporting Centre at Karmelava, Lithuania, controlled aerial activity from the ground.

The personnel and aircrew involved participated in air command and control training and practiced intercepts, cross-border air operations and air-to-air refueling.

To keep the aircraft training in the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, KC-135s from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, refueled U.S. and Polish F-16s.

"These exercises are great for building relations between NATO countries," said Capt. Derrick St. John, aircraft commander for one of the two participating KC-135s. "It helps the Polish pilots maintain their currencies and prepares us to work together in the future."

While most of the activity took place at altitudes precluding spectators on the ground from seeing much, the participating aircraft performed fly-bys of the Baltic nations' capitals as a show of NATO presence in air defense. Two Spangdahlem F-16s flew over the Estonian capital of Tallinn.

To ensure the integrity of alliance airspace, NATO allies' air forces, including the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, have provided air policing assets since 2004 for member nations, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which lack the full range of air defense capabilities.

The first BAST-E took place in October 2008 and others are expected on a recurring basis in the future.

Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs