The A-10s from the 354th EFS (Expeditionary Fighter Squadron), 355th FW, based at David-Monthan AFB are the first of several planned theatre security package deployments to Europe under the operation name “Atlantic Resolve”. David Mackey gives an update on their time within the UK during a short deployment at RAF Lakenheath.
Rotations will generally last six months, depending on mission and Eucom requirements. Although this deployment is a first in Europe, officials said, the Air Force has been conducting similar theatre support rotations in the Pacific region since 2004.
The formation of four A-10s arrived at RAF Lakenheath on Friday 13th March with flight operations starting on Monday 16th and continued for four days before their departure back to Spangdahlem AFB in Germany.
Before their visit to RAF Lakenheath the A-10s were training out of Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, with both U.S. and German Air Forces. The Liberty Wing is just one stop of many as the 355th FW Airmen will continue to train with NATO allies across Europe, advancing their combat readiness while training in varying conditions and cultures.
Maj. Ben Rudolphi, TSP detachment commander, explained that the pilots trained on several different missions, to include: low altitude tactical navigation, dissimilar air combat manoeuvring, helicopter escort, basic surface attack and U.K. Joint Terminal Attack Controller coordination.
“The 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilots have spent most of their lifetime in the Barry Goldwater Ranges, [Arizona], with good weather conditions,” Rudolphi said. “Coming to Europe has tested their close-air-support abilities while working in unfamiliar airspace with foreign controllers and less-than-ideal weather. Overall, they will be more confident and capable pilots.”
Below are known details of the mission types and locations that the 354th EFS flew during their week long deployment.
The four A-10s at 13:15 called up for an hour at RAF Donna Nook using the Bulldog call signs. Each aircraft attacked various targets within the range complex and they also sadly confirmed via radio they would not be strafing as they didn’t bring live ammunition with them. They concluded the session on the range with a show of force aimed at the Range control tower which gave some amazing photo opportunities for those who had taken the gamble on the A-10s using the range.
Weather proved to be difficult and the morning sortie was scrubbed. A-10s operate primarily within VFR (Visual Flight Rules) with the cloud base extremely low in the areas they wanted to operate and their launch was delayed until 15:45. All four A-10s launched with the call sign “Sandy”.
The “Sandy” call sign has been used by the A-1 Skyraider and the A-7 Corsair II – both predecessors of the A-10 – and is closely associated with the close-air support. The A-10 in the CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) mission will use its GAU-8 30mm Gatling gun to neutralize enemy threats to friendly survivors on the ground, which will allow safer passage of the HH-60G Helicopters and HC-130s during rescue operations. Sadly even though the aircraft launched they soon returned to base as the weather in the operating area proved below minimums after a short period of manoeuvres off the North Norfolk coast.
Having been fortunate to be invited on base by the RAF Lakenheath Public Affairs team, fog that was very slow to clear in the morning caused the morning mission to be scrubbed. A pair of aircraft did launch just after 14:00 allowing for shots from the ATC control tower balcony during the launch in rather challenging photographic conditions. They attempted to work with the FAC (Forward Air Controllers) at Muckleburgh on the Norfolk coast but once again the weather proved unworkable for the planned mission profile so an early RTB resulted.
Due to the poor weather the day before and not being able to cover the pilots’ walk-around and pre-flight checks, a return on base was arranged to cover these events.
Once again, a pair of aircraft launched and operated in the area of RAF Donna Nook but sadly they couldn’t get below the weather but stayed close to the range for over an hour in the hope the weather improved, it didn’t!
Thursday evening saw all four aircraft launch and work in the East Anglian MTA along side the 48th FW F-15Es of 492nd FS and the HH-60G of 56RQS, they appeared to be working within the old RAF Bentwaters/Woodbridge complex on CSAR mission profiles.
All four aircraft departed in the morning in a style rarely seen from departing aircraft from runway 06. The 48th FW commander, via his Facebook page, announced later that day that he would like to bring the A-10s back to Lakenheath later in the deployment, which I am sure everyone hopes he manages to achieve and hopefully the weather will allow the 354th EFS pilots to fully show off the CSAR skills to the units they tried to work with during this TDY.
Since leaving the UK, 4 of the 12 aircraft have forward deployed to Poland to continue the interworking with Eastern European NATO forces supporting the 2nd Cavalry Regiment on Operation Dragoon Ride – a 1100 mie journey back from exercise to their base in Vilseck, Germany. Lets hope this will not be the last time we see the Davis-Monthan A-10s in UK skies
The author would like to thank everyone on the RAF Lakenheath Public Affairs team for the help in making this article possible especially A1C Trevor T. McBride & A1C Erin R. Babis for the additional information.