ŁASK AIR BASE, Poland --
Airmen assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, are currently deployed as the 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron for Aviation Detachment Rotation 21.3 at Łask Air Base, Poland.
During the ADR, Spangdahlem Airmen leveraged Agile Combat Employment concepts and innovative practices, specifically the Versatile Integrating Partner Equipment Refueling (VIPER) kit.
The VIPER kit utilizes host nation refueling equipment to support fifth-generation fighters, as well as any U.S. Air Force aircraft, anywhere in the world. In the most simplistic sense, the VIPER kit functions as a universal fuel adaptor.
"We had two U.S. Fighting Falcon F-16s fly from Łask AB, Poland to Powidz AB, Poland," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Yunker, 480th EFS Fuels Management Flight operations superintendent. "We forward deployed a small group of people to Powidz AB to support the turning of two aircraft. Afterwhich, we quickly packed up and returned, with the kit, to Łask AB. This is a huge proof of concept that it actually works and it's something that we can accomplish with minimal manning."
ADR 21.3 marked the Department of Defense's first operational deployment of the VIPER kit to support rapid refueling of aircraft with engines still running, referred to as hot pits, with partner nations.
The operational success of the VIPER kit in Poland carries significant implications for the U.S. Air Force fleet. Employing the rapid refuel kit reduces the requirement to transport hazardous cargo, which saves fuel, equipment, and taxpayer dollars, while decreasing the Air Force’s environmental footprint.
It also decreases mission response time and provides flexibility for not only the U.S. Department of Defense, but also its NATO partners and allies.
"The VIPER Kit doesn't require any fuel sampling because it's an adapter with a hose," Yunker said. "To set the kit up and fully deploy it so that we have a hot pit ready, will take us ten minutes or less."
Members of the Polish air force and the 126th Air Refueling Wing at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., fortified enduring relationships and observed the demonstration, affording them the opportunity to gain firsthand experience with the VIPER kit.
"Seeing the kit was really awesome," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Phillip Hilmes 126th ARW Fuels Management Flight fuels technician. “We were seeing history in the making. I mean this was the first time it was used during an F-16 hot pit refueling session in Poland.”
Beyond the operational impacts, the VIPER kit is projected to save U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa nearly $1.3 million annually in fuel truck-shipping alone and doesn’t account for the cost associated with the additional support teams. By the end of 2021, USAFE is expected to distribute an additional 23 VIPER kits to various locations throughout Europe and the Pacific, bringing this rapid, integrated capability to operations around the globe.