KC-135s Pull Off ‘Monumental’ Air Bridge to Get Scores of Plane to Train in Europe

Air Defender 23, the German-led air train that’s the largest in NATO historical past, kicked off June 12 with roughly 100 of the 250 collaborating plane coming from Air Nationwide Guard models throughout the U.S.—and simply getting all of these USAF planes throughout the Atlantic Ocean offered a singular problem.

Lots of the U.S. plane collaborating in Air Defender are fighters just like the F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10, which regularly should not have sufficient gasoline to cross an ocean on their very own. That meant models just like the 128th Air Refueling Wing of the Wisconsin Air Nationwide Guard needed to step in with its KC-135s to make sure the plane can preserve flying with out having to land.

“Transferring 100 plane over the ocean within the matter of 4 or 5 flying days is a monumental feat,” Maj. Brandyn Dietman, deputy director of air refueling for the 128th, stated in a latest press launch. “Fighter plane can’t make it over by themselves, in order that they want the tankers to construct the air bridge to assist them recover from.”

Planning for Air Defender has been ongoing for a while now, and Dietnam famous the 128th had put in “a 12 months’s value of labor” on the logistics of the air bridge.

After Air Defender 23 concludes, the unit will help air bridge operations again to the U.S. from its momentary task at Keflavik Air Base, Iceland, a spokesperson instructed Air & Area Forces Journal.

Air bridge operations like these supported by the 128th show the U.S. and NATO’s capacity to successfully reply to a real-world disaster.

“The entire level of this [exercise] is to combine with our multi-national companions and present that we will seamlessly work as one massive coalition drive,” Dietman stated.

Air Defender will check that integration by way of a fictional state of affairs through which an alliance of Japanese European nations invading Germany, triggering a world response to push again the imaginary belligerents. The train has been within the making since earlier than Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, however officers hope it is going to ship a powerful message of NATO airpower and solidarity because the battle rages on.

“I might be fairly stunned if any world chief was not being attentive to what this reveals, by way of the spirit of this alliance, which suggests the power of this alliance,” Amy Gutmann, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, instructed reporters. “That features [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”

The train will function real-world simulated fight, missile protection in addition to “the political, financial and media ranges” of battle, in keeping with the Germany navy.

Past U.S. fighter jets, Air Defender 23 additionally incorporates MQ-9s, C-130s, KC-135s, C-17s, and KC-46s, in addition to European fighters resembling Eurofighters, Tornados, Gripens, and American-made export mannequin F-16s and F-18s. The train will happen primarily in three areas over Germany, although there may even be ahead working areas within the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Latvia. 

U.S. bombers are additionally collaborating in Air Defender 23—B-1B Lancers from the seventh Bomb Wing are presently on a Bomber Job Pressure deployment primarily based out of RAF Fairford, U.Okay., and joined the train to conduct hot-pit refueling in Romania. Scorching-pit refueling entails an plane touchdown and conserving an engine operating whereas it receives gasoline so it might shortly take again off once more.