NARRATIVE BY CHRIS W. BALMER & IMAGES BY CHRIS W. BALMER / CARL NEWELL / MARK ROURKE
Pixelsnipers spent a few days in late 2015 with various elements of the USAF’s 48th Fighter Wing(FW) at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, UK. It is important to note that the 48th FW doesn’t just consist of flightcrew that fly the potent Boeing F-15C/D Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle, but is made up of a huge array of support and maintenance personnel. Here we will try to demonstrate some of what goes on behind the scenes at what is recognised as the USAF’s largest European fighter aircraft base.
RAF Lakenheath – it’s origins.
The base has been in existence since 1941, although beforehand it was set up as a dummy airfield to deter Luftwaffe attacks on the nearby bases of Mildenhall and Feltwell. It’s first occupiers were the RAF’s No. 20 Operational Training Unit flying Vickers Wellington Mk lc aircraft. They were then joined by the RAF’s 149 squadron who flew the Shorts Stirling MkIII aircraft in combat missions over Europe in WWII. It wasn’t until 1943 that Lakenheath moved out from it’s satellite status of nearby RAF Mildenhall to function in it’s own right, facilitating combat missions for 199 squadron again using both Wellington and Stirling medium bombers. In 1944 Lakenheath was redesignated in a support role until the RAF then reconstructed the 3 runways to allow for use by both British and American heavy bombers.
The construction work on the runways was completed and the base reopened in 1947, but the new priority was for base was it’s use by 30 American B-29 aircraft and 750 personnel. At this point in history the “Cold War” was really beginning to heat up, and the B29s of the USAF 2nd Bombardment Group were intended to be a deterrent to the Russians. As time moved on between 1948 and 1960, the USAF decided to rotate numerous different units of their Strategic Air Command(SAC) into Lakenheath. This became easier for the USAF as they took over control of RAF Lakenheath in an administrative respect in 1951, thus allowing the free rotation of SAC units to the Suffolk base.
The arrival of the 48th TFW at Lakenheath took place in 1960 after they relocated from Chaumont in France. Comprising a total of 60 F-100D Super Sabre aircraft, the 3 squadrons making up the 48th TFW quickly settled into their new home, and were part of the USAF contingent in Europe that was seen to be on the front line of the Cold War. Lakenheath was a busy base during this time period with it even being a rotational base for SAC B-47 and B-52 bombers as well. The base was home to the F-100 aircraft until 1972 when they were replaced by F-4D Phantoms. Following on from this, the Phantoms were subsequently replaced by the F-111Fs in 1977. During this period of airframe changes, it was deemed necessary to activate the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron(TFS) to complement the existing 492, 493 & 494 squadrons. The 495th acted in a training capacity mostly to cope with the demands put on all personnel changing their skillsets for all elements within the wing including engineering, weapons, and tactics.
The last significant change to the 48th TFW came in 1993, when the F-111Fs were replaced by F-15 Eagles. By this time the F-111Fs based at Lakenheath had undertaken significant front line combat missions in the first Gulf War as well as the infamous raid on Tripoli back in 1986. Currently the 492, 493 & 494th squadrons are still active at Lakenheath (the 495th was deactivated in 1991), and continue to extend the reach and power of the USAF globally with frequent deployments to “hot spots” and undertaking support missions on a frequent basis.
Modern Day Lakenheath – more than just aircraft and pilots…
Pixelsnipers have been able to give you a breakdown of the numerous units within the 48th FW, so carry on reading to see who does what within RAF Lakenheath.
48th Operations Group
The USAF presence at Lakenheath is currently represented by the 48th Operations Group (comprising of five squadrons of F-15C/D/E aircraft, HH-60G helicopters), the 48th Maintenance Group, the 48th Medical Group and the 48th Mission Support Group .
The squadrons at Lakenheath include the 492nd, 493rd, 494th, 56th, 57th and the 48th Operations Support Squadron.
The 492nd and 494th are combat capable F-15E squadrons that are used to provide close air support and counter-air missions for not only the USAFE, but NATO as well globally when required.
The 493rd is an F-15C squadron that excels and provides air superiority and air defense capabilites again for the USAFE and NATO on a global scale.
The 56th Rescue Squadron is primarily used to provide Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) capabilities for the USAF and often deploys to hot spots around the world when required. The squadron utilises 5 HH-60G Pavehawk helicopters and a number of specialist Pararescue personnel (otherwise referred to as “PJs)
The 57th was reactivated at Lakenheath in February 2015, utilising personnel from the 56th Rescue Squadron, with no additional manpower or aircraft being added or required. The creation of two rescue squadrons at Lakenheath was intended to replicate real world combat operations as PJs frequently deploy separately from their rescue helicopters. The 56th was the last squadron in the Air Force to split its pararescue and flying functions into two squadrons.
The 48th Operations Support Squadron provide the maintenance, support, and logistics for the other 4 squadrons at Lakenheath. Services provided by this squadron include operational planning, weather services, training, administration, air traffic control, airfield and flight management, and weapons/tactics.
48th Mission Support Group
The 48th MSG has a role to provide expeditionary and in-garrison personnel, logistics, communications, contracting, engineering and services support. To do this, it consists of several squadrons that include:
- 48th Civil Engineer Squadron
The 48th CES supports both RAF Lakenheath and RAF Feltwell, and also provides maintenance, construction, fire protection, environmental protection, disaster preparedness, explosive ordnance disposal and housing for the installations’ squadrons and tenants, 705 facilities, housing units, a regional hospital, Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Defense Commissary Agency and the US Department of Defense Dependents Schools.
- 48th Force Support Squadron
This squadron supports more than 15,000 personnel from a total of 21 squadrons, 14 tenant units and their associated family members. They provide manpower and personnel, force development, airman and family services, sustainment, and community services support for both RAF Lakenheath and RAF Feltwell. The services offered include education services, family support, food services, lodging, child development, laundry, mortuary affairs, honor guard, library, fitness, sports and recreation. The 48th FSS also manages the United Kingdom’s only Airman Leadership School for two wings, a special operations group and five geographically separated units.
- 48th Security Forces Squadron
The 48th SFS protects and defends the largest, and only lead AEF wing in-garrison and at deployed locations. They provide force protection for the military, civilian and family members on and off bases, whilst coordinating law enforcement operations with the UK police agencies. They also undertake expeditionary and home station missions, supporting operations within any area of responsibility.
- 48th Communications Squadron
The 48th CS provides the 48th FW with command, control, communications, computer and information systems support both locally and on TDY. They maintain air traffic control, meteorological, navigation, telephone, computer, information management, force protection and personal communications systems. As if this wasn’t enough, they also run the network control center and post office!
- 48th Contracting Squadron
The 48th CONS procures services and equipment worth more than $120 million annually for DOD activities in the UK, Norway and Iceland for USAFE, 48th FW, 100th Air Refueling Wing, 352nd Special Operations Group across 11 geographic locations. They directly support more than 22,000 personnel. The squadron also deploys personnel to combat and humanitarian operations and exercises in Africa, Europe and Southwest Asia.
- 48th Logistics Readiness Squadron
The 48th LRS provides materiel management, distribution and contingency operations supporting 48th FW, USAFE, U.S. European Command and NATO commitments. They manage and operate a large fleet of vehicles; receive, store, inspect and deliver supplies; annually issue gallons of petroleum via R-11 refuelers; and direct the 48th FW deployment and plans program.
48th Maintenance Group
The 48th Maintenance Group is responsible for all organizational and intermediate level maintenance for F-15C, F-15D, F-15E aircraft, engines, munitions and support equipment used by three fighter squadrons and one helicopter search and rescue squadron to accomplish U.S. Air Forces in Europe, U.S. European command and NATO commitments and taskings. The group also ensures readiness for all personnel and aircraft fleet health through planning, analysis and programming for manpower, funds, equipment, training and facility requirements.
48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
The 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is a deployable unit which conducts the inspection, generation and organizational maintenance of the F-15E aircraft. It sustains two fighter squadrons in support of USAFE, EUCOM and NATO commitments through direction to two aircraft maintenance units. The squadron provides a consistent application of maintenance practices, and distribution of resources with applicable training programs.
748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
The 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is one of the most diverse squadrons in the USAF as It comprises two unique units – the 493rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the 56th Helicopter Maintenance Unit. Each maintains a fleet of F-15C fighter aircraft and HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters at Lakenheath. The 493rd AMU maintains its fleet to provide air superiority and air defense missions in addition to maintaining interoperability with other branches of the military and NATO allies. The 56th AMU is the only USAFE based rescue squadron, and maintains its fleet in support of disaster relief and noncombatant emergency operations.
48th Component Maintenance Squadron
The 48th CMS provides maintenance and accessory repair to all of the aircraft types based at Lakenheath. They are responsible for a type IIA Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory and 3 different repair facilities to support U.S. Africa Command, CENTCOM, EUCOM, NATO and USAFE tasking by performing equipment calibrations and intermediate level maintenance on the F-15 family and C-130. As well as airframe maintenance, they are also responsible for maintaining other specific equipment including the LANTIRN navigation/targeting and reconnaissance devices as well as the F100-PW-220 and F100-PW-220-229 engines used by the based F-15s. The CMS operates the largest engine maintenance and overhaul facility within the USAF, and often receives engines for work or repair from the 2 other primary F-15 bases in the US at Mountain Home and Seymour Johnson. The “prop shop” as it is known, averages a turnaround of circa 103 engine powerplants a year in terms of overhaul/maintenance/repairs et al, which is a sure sign of an efficient operation. The facility also hosts several employees from Pratt & Whitney to allow the USAF technicians to interact directly with the powerplant manufacturer as and when required.
48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron
The 48th EMS provides intermediate level maintenance for the based F-15s which includes working on ground equipment, structural repair, fabrication, corrosion prevention, aircraft inspection and crash recovery.
48th Maintenance Operations Squadron
The 48th MOS works to provide combat readiness and fleet health through command and control, analysis and scheduling of the wing’s F-15 aircraft and F100-PW-220 and F100-PW-229 engine fleet. It also provides maintenance and ancillary training for all personnel involved in this area.
48th Munitions Squadron
The 48th MS provides munitions and armament systems maintenance for the F-15 aircraft within the 48th FW. It provides maintenance of critical equipment and weapons storage and security systems.
48th Medical Group
The 48th MDG supports not only the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath, but also the 100th Air Refueling Wing, 501st Combat Support Wing and 352nd Special Operations Wing at nearby RAF Mildenhall. The medical group provides primary and specialist health care services to more than 35,000 eligible beneficiaries within the USAF annually at 6 operating locations throughout the U.K. and Norway. The 48th MDG also provides extensive dental care, surgery, and childbirth facilities as well. These offerings are extended beyond the boundaries of the 48th FW, and extend into the areas covered by the U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Central Command.
As you can see there is a lot more to RAF Lakenheath than just the flightcrew and aircraft, and we hope that this article has provided an insight into what the circa 5000 personnel on base at Lakenheath do on a daily basis to operate the 48th FW.
Pixelsnipers gratefully appreciate the assistance provided by members of the 48th CMS as well as the Media Office team of Sgt. Erik Burks and SrA Trevor McBride for this article.