By Airman 1st Class Alison Stewart, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 28, 2020
A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons during an airborne refueling exercise over Poland, Sept. 24, 2020. The KC-135 refueled F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base numerous times during sorties as part of the joint multinational exercise Astral Knight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alison Stewart)
A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels a U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle over Poland, Sept. 22, 2020. The F-15s, based out of RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, participated in exercise Astral Knight along with fighter aircraft from Spangdahlem Air Base, Poland and other members of NATO. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alison Stewart)
As part of joint multinational exercise Astral Knight, a KC-10 Extender refueled multiple Polish and U.S. aircraft while over Polish airspace Sept. 22 and 24.
Despite the obvious complications presented by a global pandemic, the U.S. Air Force mission never stops. Astral Knight is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on conducting defense of key terrain. Training involved a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios.
“We are participating in Astral Knight to extend our forces and partner forces throughout the exercise,” said Capt. Hannah Riddle, 305th Air Mobility Squadron KC-10 pilot. “It demonstrates how quickly and effectively we can respond and show that we are ready to support our allies anywhere in the world.”
Astral Knight demonstrated the capabilities of land, air, and sea interoperability between multinational forces. The exercise also tested the Patriot missile system provided by the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. Patriot is a highly mobile surface-to-air missile system that provides a coordinated, secure, integrated, mobile air defense system to USAFE.
“There are a number of countries that are all working together in order to make sure we understand how to command and control, which is to tell the aircraft where to go and how to orchestrate a battle,” said Col. David Epperson, 52nd Fighter Wing commander.
The aircraft utilized a KC-10 to refuel numerous times after performing sorties over Polish airspace. The KC-10 is capable of delivering more than 200,000 pounds of fuel to other aircraft, which included U.S. and Polish fighters over the duration of the exercise.
U.S. participation in multinational exercises enhances professional relationships and improves overall coordination and interoperability with allied and partner militaries.
U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa have a strong relationship with the 10th Air and Missile Defense Command. Exercises like Astral Knight allows the Air Force to assess and improve the tactics and procedures in a realistic environment.
“Communication with Polish forces and airspace controllers has been a good experience for us,” Riddle said. “It’s important to practice with our partners to build our relationships and improve coordination.”
During Astral Knight, operating areas included the airspace in central and northeast Poland and locations in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.