Military Aviation


More than 50 military aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Polish Air Force and German Air Force are taking part in the exercise

Taken on Jun. 14, 2017 the beautiful images in this post show two Polish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons refueling from a KC-135R Stratotanker during Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) over Latvia.

As explained by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article Air Command and Control plays pivotal role in BALTOPS, there are more than 50 military aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Polish Air Force and German Air Force training together during BALTOPS and Saber Strike Exercises.

“Within some of the training scenarios we participate in we will fly across three or four sovereign countries with different air traffic control regions,” said U.S. Air Force (USAF) Lt. Col. Benjamin Freeborn, 510th Fighter Squadron commander, Aviano Air Base, Italy. “Sometimes we operate outside the range of the base and we can’t come back to it without that aerial refueling support.”

The individuals behind the scenes ensuring day-to-day operations take place are located at the Combined Air Operations Centre Uedem (CAOCU), Germany, where Air Command and Control (Air C2) takes place.

“The amount of orchestration involved to have a flight of F-16’s connect with a tanker for fuel without talking to each other until we show up is immense, it’s certainly like a leap of faith in the Air C2 to make it happen,” said Freeborn. “If any of those links in the chain breaks, we would be forced to divert and possibly land on an unfamiliar airfield.”

Another important link in the Air C2 chain is the Joint Interface Control Officer (JICO), who is responsible for managing the Tactical Data Link, which includes a newly developed Link 16 Network and some critical connections to support the CAOCU.

“My role is to design the Tactical Data Link (TDL) architecture, which consists of finding ways for Data Link capable ships, aircraft and shore components to connect to each other using Link 11, Link 16 and Joint Range Extension And Protocol (JREAP),” said U.S. Navy Lt. Ryan Cornforth, Naval Forces Europe/Africa Sixth Fleet JICO. “The result from connecting the participants allows the Commanders to execute C2 from a common tactical picture.”

CAOCU, is responsible for NATO Air Policing north of the Alps and CAOC Torrejon for the south. Each of them has a Static Air Defense Center, conducting 24/7 peacetime Air Policing, and a Deployable Air Operations Center for operational contingency tasks such as providing qualified personnel augmentation to the NATO Command Structure Joint Force Air Component at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Noteworthy to accomplish Air Policing mission, CAOCU closely cooperates with Control and Reporting Centers and National Air Policing Centers, allowing for thorough coordination of peacetime Air Policing operations, procedures and command and control. This includes control of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing operation, where contributing nations take turns in providing Quick Reaction Alert forces for the mission.

Although BALTOPS is a U.S. sponsored exercise, it is led by Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and supported by NATO Air Command (AIRCOM), and brings together both NATO and NATO partner countries to increase interoperability.

The exercise is designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, to strengthen combined response capabilities, as well as demonstrate resolve among Allied and Partner Nations’ forces to ensure stability in, and if necessary defend, the Baltic Sea region.

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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