For more than 70 years, the Airmen assigned to U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa have found ways to adapt, innovate and excel in a rapidly changing warfare environment.
This was evident during the past year when Airmen overcame unprecedented challenges while continuing to command the airspace and display unparalleled airpower. They not only conducted operations and supported innovations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but also continued to execute large force exercises and first-time integrations. These and other operations strengthened relationships with ally and partner nations throughout Europe and Africa and ensured the continued command and control of the airspace.
What did 2020 teach us? That USAFE–AFAFRICA will always provide combat airpower on demand.
Operations and innovations to combat COVID-19
As the COVID-19 pandemic began, Airmen across USAFE–AFAFRICA provided aid to their fellow Airmen, NATO allies, and partners across Europe and Africa.
In March, Airmen from the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, provided essential support to the Italian Ministry of Defense when they transported an En-Route Patient Staging System, capable of supporting 40 patients in 24 hours, to Aviano Air Base, Italy.
In an article highlighting the mission, Gen. Jeff Harrigian, USAFE–AFAFRICA commander, stated: “This effort demonstrates our mutual support as we team together in response to this public health crisis. We are working closely with our Italian friends, the Department of State, and U.S. European Command to ensure we provide the right equipment in a safe and timely manner. It’s our privilege to support the Italian response, and our continued commitment reflects the values of the American people to provide assistance whenever and wherever it is needed.”
The next month Airmen delivered approximately 4,000 pounds of medical supplies to the government of Ghana. The supplies, provided by the Naval Medical Research Unit Three-Ghana Detachment, experienced delays due to logistical disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic until Airmen from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, and the 86th AW stepped in to provide critical transportation.
Large force exercises
In late May, four USAFE–AFAFRICA units and multiple NATO assets supported the first large force exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic. The LFE took place within North Sea airspace and involved U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, England; F-16C Fighting Falcons assigned to the 31st FW, Aviano AB, Italy; F-16Cs assigned to the 52nd FW, Spangdahlem AB, Germany; KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 100th ARW; and NATO E-3 Sentry, or AWACS, from Geilenkirchen AB, Germany.
In September, more than 50 aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Netherlands Air Force participated in exercise Point Blank 20-04 over the North Sea. The recurring exercise strengthens interoperability, combat readiness and regional security as well as deters adversaries.
First-time integrations and accomplishments
USAFE–AFAFRICA operates in over 19 million square miles across three continents and in this vast area of responsibility our Airmen accomplished historic first-time missions.
A fifth generation integration familiarization flight with a RNLAF F-35A Lightning II was conducted with U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bomber aircraft from the 131st Bomb Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, and the 509th BW, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, over the North Sea on March 18. The integration of fifth generation capabilities sharpened capabilities and interoperability for the future of airpower.
Also for the first time, U.S. Air Force and Ukrainian aircraft integrated as part of a long-range, long-duration strategic bomber mission throughout Europe and the Black Sea region on May 29. B-1B Lancers from the 28th BW, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, trained with Ukrainian Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums to strengthen the relationships necessary to combat today’s dynamic global challenges.
On Aug. 28, the single-day mission Allied Sky demonstrated our commitment to readiness and the security of NATO airspace. While supporting Bomber Task Force Europe missions, six U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers flew over all 30 NATO nations in both Europe and North America. The mission included integration with aircraft from several NATO nations.
Enhancing relationships with African partner nations
In September, U.S. Air Force B-52s integrated with the air forces of two African nations while supporting a Bomber Task Force mission. The first was a one-day interoperability mission with four Moroccan F-16s and a demonstration of maritime interoperability with the USS Roosevelt (DDG 80). The next day, U.S. Air Force B-52s integrated with Tunisian F-5s over the Mediterranean Sea.
In addition to the operations and exercises that occurred in the air and on the ground, dedication to combined cooperation and regional security was present at the highest levels. Harrigian hosted the first virtual Executive African Partnership Flight conference with Air Chiefs from multiple African countries, where leaders were able to discuss current operations and engagements of their air forces along with future training events focused on ensuring the security of the region.
All domain command and control
In 2020, Airmen continued to train and operate with their fellow service members across branches.
In July, aircraft assigned to the 31st FW, the 100th ARW and the 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2, Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland, participated in a mission in international airspace and waters within the Black Sea region alongside assets from U.S. Naval Forces Europe, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe and U.S. Space Command. The mission utilized Joint Air-to-Surface Missile cruise missile tactics training scenarios.
USAFE-AFAFRICA assets also participated in a Joint All-Domain Command and Control event in November with assets from NAVEUR, U.S. Army Europe and Africa and SOCEUR. The joint exercise was in international waters and airspace around the Black and Baltic Seas, training U.S. forces to integrate, operate and communicate while executing all-domain targeting operations in any arena.
Combat airpower will always be provided on demand
Across domains and continents, USAFE–AFAFRICA has constantly demonstrated commitment to the security of the region and to the relationships that protect it.
In 2020, USAFE–AFAFRICA Airmen overcame challenges as they adapted, innovated and excelled on the ground and in the air. In 2021, the force will only continue to grow stronger, more lethal and ready.
“We are the world’s most capable Air Force and alliance because of our people,” said Harrigian. “We will take care of our people while we continue to accomplish the mission, in any environment, no matter how great the challenge.”