A training exercise between the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) and USAFE’s 555th Fighter Squadron, headquartered at Aviano Air Base in Italy, successfully took place at the 115 Combat Wing / Souda Air base in Crete between Friday, January 20th through to Friday, February 3, 2017.
Onalert.gr had the opportunity to talk with representatives of the US mission to gain a better perspective on the activities and role of the Aviano NATO Wing on regional security.
- Could you tells us more about the training engagement undertaken during this training mission in Souda?
Sure! The objectives for this annual training exercise are to develop realistic scenarios to prepare aircrews for combat operations and to further partnerships with Greece. The purpose of this mission is to exercise participating units and optimize units’ interaction with allied nations to ensure training effectiveness and interoperability. This includes the use of live-fire ranges, access to infrastructure and support facilities, and advanced training with a NATO Ally.
- Could you elaborate further on the objectives, cooperation and training with the Hellenic Air Force (HAF)?
Approximately 350 U.S. service members are stationed in Greece with a mission to support U.S., Allied and Coalition Forces deployed in the U.S. European Command, Central Command, and Africa Command geographic regions by providing, operating, and sustaining facilities and services dedicated to combat readiness, and security of ships, aircraft, detachments and personnel. Relative to the Flying Training Deployment and in addition to what was already said, one KC-135 “Stratotanker” from the 161st Air Refueling Wing, Arizona Air National Guard performed air refueling with HAF F-16s and U.S. F-16s.
- What is the primary mission of the 31st Fighter Wing and how does it respond to USAFE and NATO operations planning?
The 31st Fighter Wing’s mission is to “Deter Aggression, Defend U.S. and NATO interests and Develop Aviano” by striving “to be the U.S. Air Force’s No. 1 fighter wing and trusted ally, serving Team Aviano and families.” For more information about the fighter wing and its capabilities, here.
- How many fighter/support aircraft and USAFE personnel are involved in this training deployment here in Greece?
This exercise included 14 F-16C “Fighting Falcons” from the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy and one KC-135 “Stratotanker” from the 161st Air Refueling Wing, Arizona Air National Guard. The U.S. Air Force’s forward presence in Europe and this bilateral training will continue to strengthen our relationship and interoperability with NATO Ally, Greece. Approximately 300 personnel from the 31st FW and 161st ARW participated in this forward training deployment.
- What version of the F-16 Fighting Falcon does the 555th Fighter Squadron use?
- What new capabilities, weapons and systems are available after the CCIP modernization program?
The Common Configuration Implementation Program (CCIP) upgraded all F-16 Block 40/42/50/52 aircraft to common avionics configuration, common Operational Flight Program (OFP, and common capabilities. CCIP included four major modifications: Modular Mission Computer, Color Displays, Link-16, and Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. These four major modifications
allows expanded capability with Link-16, AIM-9X, Harm Targeting System (HTS), Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) in addition to the entire weapons carriage arsenal of the F-16 prior to CCIP.
- I understand that once training is complete all personnel will return back to their base. What are the challenges and time needed to successfully accomplish the transition of aircraft and personnel from Aviano AFB – Italy tο NAS Souda in Greece. Are there similar training deployments taking place every year or was this sudden? Could you elaborate?
That is correct. Transitioning between a deployed location and home station is something the Air Force has fine-tuned to allow all of its members the appropriate amount of time to spend with loved ones while still keeping our 31st Fighter Wing Airmen forward, ready, now. The logistics and scheduling process is arduous, but we have dedicated, highly-trained Airmen who plan, prepare and deploy their teammates, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Flying Training Deployments exercise participating units in combined air operations and extend our international war-fighting capability through operational training with our allies. This will build upon the nations’ joint capabilities, ensuring a stronger partnership and enhanced interoperability. There are numerous deployments, multi-national exercises and training events around the globe in which we participate every year and, for the most part, are coordinated well in advance with our allies. This Flying Training Deployment was planned many months in advance as are the many other exercises our Airmen participate in to ensure we are always ready to respond to crises and defend U.S. and NATO interests.
- How does USAFE Europe project stability in Europe?
U.S. Air Forces in Europe, alongside its NATO allies and regional partners, share a commitment to promote peace and stability in the region. USAFE provides a steady presence of trained and combat-ready forces ready to rapidly response to crisis and ensure support to global operations. Specifically, the Souda Bay flying training deployment allows both U.S. Air Forces and the Hellenic air force to extend joint warfighting capability through operational training.
- How does USAFE reinforce deterrence against Russian aggression in the Eastern flank and against the threat of terrorism in the South?
USAFE is engaged, postured, and ready with forward-deployed U.S. forces. We enable and execute a full range of military missions in concert with our indispensable European Allies and Partners to secure U.S. national interests and to support a Europe that is whole, free, secure, prosperous, and at peace. Our planning and training efforts directly enhance our real-world capabilities, which are the cornerstone of defense and deterrence in Europe. Additional efforts to maintain regional stability include U.S. Air Force participation in NATO air policing missions to both improve our interoperability and ensure the continued sovereignty of our NATO allies and partners.
*Many Thanks to SSgt Austin Harvill, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs