August 13, 2010 (by TSgt. Lindsey Maurice) - Members of the 555th Fighter Squadron, known as the "Triple Nickel," and 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron pack up their tool boxes and set their jets on a return course to Aviano Air Base, Italy, today, after spending two weeks conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground exercises with the Swedish Air Force at Norrbotten Wing, or "F 21 Wing."
Two Aviano F-16s taxi down the runway after conducting an air-to-ground flying mission on August 5th, 2010 at Kallax AB, Sweden. More than 250 Airmen from the 555th FS and 31st AMXS travelled to the Swedish air base on July 30th for a two week exercise conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground flying missions alongside the Swedish air force members assigned to Norrbotten Wing. [USAF photo by TSgt. Lindsey Maurice]
Over the course of two weeks, the U.S. Air Force worked side-by-side with their Swedish allies both in the skies and on the ground conducting more than 180 flying missions that tested their air combat capabilities as well as their precision weapons scoring. This training was conducted at the Vidsel Test Range, located about 50 miles from the base.
"Joint exercises like this are great because they give us a chance to go to another country and see how other air forces operate, giving us the chance to learn as well as share the way we do business," said Maj. Travis Swan, 555th FS
assistant director of operations and project officer for the exercise. "This particular exercise was also important in that it afforded us the opportunity to use a scored range - one of the best training areas I've ever seen - to conduct practice munitions drops and low-level flying."
Övlt (Lt. Col. equivalent) Harri Larsson, F 21 Wing deputy commander, said the Swedish air force was proud to host its U.S. Air Force allies over the two-week period and hone their combat skills together.
"Everything has gone really well," he said. "We really appreciate working with the U.S. Air Force because it gives us dimension ... training with someone else, other equipment, other tactics, working in the English language, which is not our native language ... I believe it gives us a lot of good experience which we can use in the future."
The commander added that the exercise is especially important for both the Swedish Gripen and U.S. Fighting Falcon pilots.
"They can improve their training and we become more interoperable," he said. "Our government wants us to become more flexible and be able to, on a short notice, go abroad. (Therefore), we need to work with other countries, especially the U.S. (as) the U.S. is the biggest contributor to NATO
and the UN. It's from our point of view it's necessary to work with U.S."
Throughout the exercise, which began July 30, more than 250 Airmen from the 31st Fighter Wing worked around the clock prepping and loading the unit's F-16 fleet, for their daily morning and afternoon sorties.
"We've got everyone here needed to sustain a flying unit," said Major Swan, "our operations folks, a huge maintenance contingent, the 603rd Air Control Squadron doing our communications piece, security forces, services folks, medics and more - pretty much anything or anyone we need to keep the mission on track."
The major said their Swedish air force partners have been gracious hosts throughout the exercise and vital to the mission's success.
"We're doing a lot with the Swedes, just as far as the daily operations go," he said. "They set up all of our lodging, food, rental cars and Internet access, so we work with them every day on the support side of it. As far as flying goes, we're using their air traffic controllers, their range, their range controllers, some of their joint terminal attack controllers; who are working with our Air Force JTACs up on the range, and we're doing some flying missions alongside their Gripen Fighters."
Airman 1st Class Kelly Sifers, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew member, said this is her third time traveling abroad on temporary duty with the Triple Nickel, having traveled to Spain and Turkey
in the past.
"Exercises like these are always great for us (weapons loaders) because we get vital training ... in regards to actually loading all the different practice munitions onto the jets," she said. "Plus, the experience of visiting another country is always great. I love the weather here."
Major Swan said the air-to-ground flying training the pilots experience on these TDYs is also vital, as it mirrors the type of real-world action they are seeing downrange in Afghanistan.
"The best part of this trip is some of the flying we get to do," he said. "Like today, we got to drop a practice (joint direct attack munition) and shoot rockets for the first time. I also got to shoot the gun on a tactical target on the range, so it's really great flying."
"Just being here in Sweden is great too though," he added. "It's cool going downtown and meeting the people. It's kind of the whole deal that makes this trip so great."
As the exercise comes to a close with the departure of the Triple Nickel and its U.S. Air Force support team, Övlt Larsson said the F 21 Wing hopes to host its American allies again in the near future.
"I think we have a great opportunity here to host this kind of training due to our training areas," he said. "We don't have that many airplanes coming up here; so actually those things together gives us the ability to host big flying exercises, which I think is quite unique."