NARRATIVE BY MARC NEWITT & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE AND CHRIS W. BALMER
Boars are back in Europe – A-10Cs take part in Operation Atlantic Resolve
On February 9th 2015 the United States Air Force (USAF) deployed twelve Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft to the 52nd Fighter Wing (FW) at Spangdahlem Air Force Base (AFB) in Germany in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The aircraft from 354th Fighter Squadron (FS) “Bulldogs”, part of the 355th Fighter Wing (FW) based out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, have been deployed for a six month period. Whilst in Germany these aircraft have been forward-deploying to locations in Eastern European NATO ( North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) nations and have been conducting training alongside NATO allies to strengthen interoperability and to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the security and stability of Europe.
The first forward deployment from Spangdelhem saw four of the twelve A-10Cs detach to RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, for a week-long stay working alongside the 56th Rescue Squadron who fly the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. The aircraft ,81-0992/DM, 81-0956/DM, 82-0648/DM and 78-0951/DM arrived just after 0900 on the Friday 13th March hailing call signs HAWG 01 – 04.
During the five-day training the 355th FW pilots and maintenance crews practised several different missions, including low altitude tactical navigation, dissimilar air combat manoeuvring, helicopter escort, basic surface attack and the UK joint terminal attack controller coordination. Some of the exercise took place over the old RAF Woodbridge airfield, which used to be a major base for the A-10’s during the Cold War.
Theatre Security Package (TSP) detachment commander Major Ben Rudolphi told the U.S. Air Force website: “The 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilots have spent most of their lifetime in the Barry Goldwater Ranges, Arizona, with good weather conditions. Coming to Europe has tested their close-air-support abilities while working in unfamiliar airspace with foreign controllers and less-than-ideal weather. Overall, they will be more confident and capable pilots.” Although bad weather did hamper flying for a lot of the week, flying operations were still being pushed as much as possible.
The A-10Cs left on the afternoon of Friday 20th March Spangdahlem bound, to join up with the rest of the squadron ready for the next forward deployment.
Previous to this, the last visits of A-10Cs to UK soil was back in August 2011, but these were from the well-recognised 81st Fighter Squadron which was permanently based at Spangdahlem Air Force Base. Most of the aircraft deployed were actually based in the United kingdom between 1979-1993, when they equipped the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) based at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk. They were also based for a short time with the 10th TFW at RAF Alconbury when two squadrons moved from RAF Bentwaters to allow room at the latter for the 527th Aggressor Squadron.
On March 24th, four Thunderbolt IIs arrived at the 33rd Powidz Transport Air Base, near Gniezno, in the Greater Poland District. The attack aircraft stayed at Powidz AB for a couple of days, conducting training operations. The Warthogs were involved in the Dragoon Ride operation, providing support for the units of the US Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
On 30th March all twelve A-10Cs left Spangdahlem Air Force Base (AFB) for Campia Turzii, Romania, for a 90 day deployment as a staging post for forward deploying to bases further east. As part of the deployment, the U.S. and Romanian air forces flew together over the plateaus in the heart of Transylvania for Dacian Thunder 2015. The 354th Fighter Squadrons Thunderbolt IIs and Romania’s 71st Air Base’s MiG-21 LanceR fighter aircraft conducted training to increase relations and interoperability while building upon both nations joint capabilities and ensuring a stronger partnership. The U.S. Air Force’s forward presence in Europe provides the support infrastructure needed to increase its current force and build new and deeper partnerships across the continent, U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA) has conducted training events like this in Romania in the past, including the recent Dacian Warhawk 2015 between the Romanian Air Force and the 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadrons F-16s assigned to Spangdahlem Air Force Base (AFB), Germany, as well as the previous Dacian Thunder with the A-10s in 2012.
Warthogs 82-647, 81-956, 81-960 and 81-992 forward deployed to Namest Air Base, Czech Republic on April 8th as part of the Theatre Security Package in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The Czech Republic air force invited them to come out and train with their Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) for a week. A Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) is a qualified military member who can communicate with and direct aircraft from the ground in a variety of scenarios such as to provide close air support. The Czech Republic air force JTACs operated in multiple locations throughout the week to make each training exercise unique to its area as possible. They got the opportunity to go out to the observation posts with the JTACs and observe how they perform Close Air Support (CAS) and to see how they nominate targets and how they go in and attack those targets.
Aircraft 78-651, 81-945, 81-988 and 81-991 were deployed to Amari Air Base, Estonia. As part of the deployment, the U.S. and Estonian air forces trained together between May 4th and May 12th during Operation Hedgehog to improve interoperability in allied air operations and train multinational close air support operations.
A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, 81-960, 81-966, 81-992 and 82-648, from the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron completed a deployment to Sliac Air Base, Slovakia, May 22nd 2015, in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The small contingent trained to improve interoperability in allied air operations and multinational close-air-support operations with the Slovakian air force during the week-long deployment. The Hogs shared joint close air support training with Slovakian air force L-39s and continued working with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACS).
Mark Rourke of Pixelsnipers tagged along with the 100th Air Refuelling Wing (ARW) on the 22nd May to witness a tanker sortie to refuel four Warthogs from the 354th Fighter Squadron (FS) that were forward deployed to Sliac Air Base, Slovakia. Flying from RAF Mildenhall, home of the 100th ARW, KC-135R 61-0321 D with callsign QUID 79 took them across Europe to meet up with HAWG 01 flight airframes 82-648, 81-960, 81-966 and 81-922 over Slovakia for a top up on their way back to Spangdahlem Air Force Base (AFB) Germany.
Nine out of the twelve airframes deployed to Europe for Operation Atlantic Resolve are ex 81st TFW; the only ones that are not ex 81st are 78-651, 81-945 and 82-648. The 81st TFW originally had their A-10s based in the United Kingdom at the twin bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge. Only separated by Rendlesham Forest these two bases were part of the front line during the Cold War. Conversion to A-10As from F-4Ds started in June 1979 and the 81st TFW served at the twin bases up until 1993 with the eventual breakdown of the wing before base closure with the 510th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) heading east for Spangdahlem Air Force Base (AFB) and the other remaining A-10s heading west for Continental United States of America (CONUS) to be distributed amongst the Air National Guard (ANG) units.