Airmen help keep summit skies safe

Maj. Lisa Neidinger
3rd Air Force Public Affairs

While Airmen around U.S. Air Forces in Europe were gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, duty called for more than 450 other Airmen in seven European countries to support the NATO Riga Summit in Latvia.

Called Operation Peaceful Summit, the military effort enhanced ongoing Baltic air policing activities with additional aircraft, communications and maintenance support to ensure safe skies as 26 heads of state met at NATO’s Riga Summit.

Preparations began with Airmen deploying before Thanksgiving. There were many local contributors. Members of the 32nd Air Operations Center provided traffic control, air battle management and command and control, while Airmen from the 1st Combat Communications Squadron provided vital communications support to link the NATO combined and joint operation. Additionally, 86th Airlift Wing personnel flew myriad support missions using C-130, C-20 and C-21 aircraft.

USAFE Commander Gen.Tom Hobbins led the overall effort in his NATO role as Commander, Air Component Command. He said the mission was complex, but that Airmen executed with great professionalism.

“What we did was provide military aircraft and infrastructure to assist not only with the President of the United States’ visits to Taillin, Estonia and Riga, but to the overall NATO Summit Nov. 28 and 29,” he said.

 General Hobbins explained that up to 25 fighter aircraft were patrolling the joint area of operations at any given time to ensure safe Baltic skies.

“We had a very good NATO-recognized air picture, often called a RAP, fed in by all the NATO Combined Air Operations Centers, showing all the aircraft in flight,” he said. “Whether it was a civilian aircraft or a military aircraft, we had all those aircraft in our system and we knew exactly what their flight plans were, what their routes of flight were programmed for, what transmissions would come from their identifications systems. We had a God’s eye view of the joint air operations space and ensured no one flew into the restricted airspace.”

More than six months of planning laid the groundwork for Operation Peaceful Summit. Officials prepared by running 12 different tabletop exercises and practicing intercepts.

“In every case, our teams performed superbly,” General Hobbins said. “I feel such a tremendous sense of pride in watching our folks succeed under the most amazing weather conditions.”

 Weather throughout the joint area of operations proved difficult at times, but thanks to prepositioned aircraft at Udem, Germany, Skrydstrup, Denmark and Siauliai, Lithuania, plus aircraft operating out of Mildenhall and Lakenheath in England, Geilenkirchen, Ramstein and Spangdahlem in Germany, plus Aviano, Italy, flexible forces provided the right mix.

 When asked if there were any tense moments during the NATO summit, General Hobbins said that there were instances where they had to check aircraft identification, but great coordination paid off.

“No one flew in the JOA accidentally and we didn’t have any issues,” he said. “I have a lot of pride in what we’ve done. I often say it’s all about the team, and that was especially true during Operation Peaceful Summit.”

Editor’s note: the Dec. 15 KA will profile how the 1st Combat Communications Squadron assisted with efforts at the NATO Summit.