SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
The 52nd Fighter Wing hosted a multinational, large-force exercise Feb. 22-23, 2018, involving participants from several NATO countries.
French, Dutch, German and Belgian aircrews flew multiple scenarios alongside American forces in what is planned to be a monthly undertaking designed to improve integration and communication among the NATO allies, said U.S. Air Force Capt. Tiffany Fjelsted, 52nd Operations Support Squadron chief of intelligence, weapons and tactics.
The scenario for the first iteration of the large-force exercise, dubbed “Saber Thunder,” was a strike package, in which fighter bombers penetrated enemy air and ground defenses to take out simulated targets. The various nations involved filled the roles of strikers, suppression of enemy air defenses, escort, command and control, aerial refueling and enemy aggressors.
Participants spent the entire first day of the two-day Saber Thunder mission planning via telephone, video teleconference and in-person where available.
All flying took place on the second day of the training exercise, in which 100 percent of scheduled aircrews participated, launching from their home stations as they would in a real-world scenario.
Aircraft flown in the exercise included F-16s, Mirage 2000s, Eurofighters, KC-135 Stratotankers and a NATO E-3 Sentry. Ground crews at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and RC-135 Rivet Joint aircrew members based at RAF Mildenhall, England, participated – but did not fly.
Lt. Col. Mike Richard, 480th Fighter Squadron commander, said the training – in which the blue air forces “won” – was very realistic and beneficial.
“We have a constantly refreshing generation of young pilots,” said Richard, who has flown in real-world NATO operations before. “For several individuals today, it was their first large-scale integration with NATO, which is good exposure for how we’re going to fight in the future.
“There is no more important alliance than NATO,” he added.
Fjelsted, who led the team responsible for writing the exercise scenario, said each one will be different, and they’ll be authored by the various units participating.
Fjelsted said future scenarios may include defensive counter air and close air support missions, and that the planning and design roles could be handed over to other units.
“We’ve conducted exercises with NATO partners before,” she said. “But, this is the first time we’ve presented it as a regular occurrence.”