Twelve F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron ‘Boneheads’ along with pilots from both the 95th and 301st Fighter Squadrons (FS), operating under the banner of the 95th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS), and supplemented by approximately 220 personnel from Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB), Florida recently undertook a month-long deployment to RAF Lakenheath.
This historic deployment was the largest F-22 Raptor deployment in Europe to date and is part of their Global Response Force training. The first European deployment of F-22s came last August as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, a Pentagon effort designed to allay European partners’ fears which also saw aircraft from Tyndall deploy but this time in to Spangdahlem AFB, Germany. Likewise, this training deployment was part of the European Reassurance Initiative – providing support to bolster the security of NATO allies and partners in Europe.
The aircraft arrived over the space of a week in three flights of four. The first batch of four arrived under the callsigns TABOR 41/42/43/44 with a single KC-10A calling CLEAN61 on April 11. Of note was the fact that these four jets were not carrying external fuel tanks leading to speculation that this may have a test of the ‘Rapid Raptor’ deployment capability.
The ‘Rapid Raptor’ concept seeks the ability to rapidly deploy a package of F-22s and the necessary supporting logistics to any forward operating base in the world, and have the aircraft in combat-ready status within a few hours of employment. Col. Robert Novotny, 48th Fighter Wing Commander, later confirmed this:
“[The] ‘Rapid Raptor’ capability means aircraft can pick up and deploy on no-notice, achieve an element of surprise and then operate on arrival, and they did. You want to be able to show up in your combat configuration ready to go.”
Within three hours of the first group of F-22s arriving, the aircraft were able to perform their first sortie consisting of attacking both air-to-air and air-to-ground threats around the East Anglia area.
The second and third waves arrived on April 12 and 18 as TABOR 21/22/23/24 and 31/32/33/34 however, both waves received support from a pair of tankers and were also configured with external tanks for their journey.
Col. Novotny outlined the benefit of deploying the F-22s to RAF Lakenheath – which was seen as the logical choice:
“The F-22 deployment to RAF Lakenheath makes perfect sense, Lakenheath is the home of combat fighter aviation in Europe; it’s the place where we work with our NATO allies to sharpen our tactical skills and reaffirm our commitment to the alliance.”
While at RAF Lakenheath, the F-22s participated in Exercise Iron Hand 16-3, conducted air training with all three 48th Wing fighter squadrons and Typhoons from RAF Coningsby. The F-22 Raptors also forward deployed to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in Romania as well as Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania – both of which are NATO allies – and participated in the commemoration of the centenary celebrations of the Lafayette Escadrille in Paris. The F-22s even took the opportunity to fly the Mach Loop in Wales and experience flying at low-level, something that isn’t really possible at their home base in Florida. RAF Lakenheath assets weren’t the only UK based USAF units to support the deployment with the 100th ARW (Air Refueling Wing) based just down the road at RAF Mildenhall providing tanker support for both local missions and the European forward deployments.
According to 1st Lt. Jolly Foss, a F-22 pilot with the 95th FS, training with the Typhoons was one of the main objectives for deploying to the United Kingdom.
“There’s different capabilities here, different air space that we don’t have access to back home and being able to integrate with the three F-15 squadrons and with the Typhoons has allowed us to go through our exercise objectives.”
Lt. Foss explained the different type of training sorties flown while deployed to the Suffolk base.
“We had some long sorties, where you send anywhere between 10-12 jets on the BLUE side against 10 aircraft on the RED side, tactical sorties where we look into destroying targets on the ground, and strictly defensive counter air, which is keeping the enemy from approaching that line,”
Capt. Andrew Gray another pilot from the 95th FS, who was also part of the deployment, explained that RAF Lakenheath is a launching platform for operations throughout the European continent. As a result, training here allows the Raptor pilots to perfect their skills while learning to work seamlessly with NATO allies and UK partners.
“Air dominance is something that the US Air Force holds at a premium. Anytime we fight any of our threats down the road, specifically as a NATO alliance or as a joint partnership with the UK, one of the first things we need to achieve is air dominance over the battlefield, so we’re going to train specifically to that mission set.”
As well as bolstering security within Europe, the deployment showed the capability of successfully deploying the Fifth-generation jets to European bases, while affording the pilots the opportunity to familiarize themselves on training and flying within Europe. Capt. Gray went on further, reaffirming the benefits of fighter integration with both USAF and NATO allies.
“Coming here and working with the 48th Fighter Wing allows us to train with the Strike Eagles, F-15Cs and U.K. assets to refine our mission set with theirs; and get our integration standards and tactics, techniques and procedures squared away, so we can train to the reality of what we will use when we go into combat zones and work as an integrated force”
The core of the daily flying that was undertaken was tasked as part of Iron Hand 16-3. On average there were approximately sixteen sorties flown per day with the number of sorties peaking at around an incredible ninety at the height of the exercise! The callsigns used by the F-22 Raptors while flying these sorties were BONES, WARMAN, MUGGER and MONGOL.
The F-22s forward deployed to Lithuania and Romania to maximise training opportunities, demonstrate the United States commitment and support to NATO allies and partners as well as sending a clear message to Vladimir Putin and Russia with the recent reoccurrence of military activity in the region. Countries close to the borders of Russia have become increasingly apprehensive since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The deployment to Romania put the Raptors right to along the Black Sea, where Russian aircraft have been increasing the number of intercepts of both U.S. and allied air and seaborne assests.
Deploying from Lakenheath into Europe also allowed for further testing of the ‘Rapid Raptor’ concept as Lt. Foss explained:
“The intent of the exercise was to show the capabilities of ‘Rapid Raptors’ by taking two F-22s to Lithuania and Romania, along with our support assets on a tanker, and being able to go anywhere in the world with very little coordination and notice”
One other aspect as part of the deployment was that of giving the maintainers the chance to practice and train using the same concept. Maintainers from the 325th Maintenance Squadron based at Tyndall forward deployed to RAF Lakenheath prior to the F-22s arriving.
Airman 1st Class Christiaan Rose – a 325th Maintenance Squadron F-22 Raptor maintainer – stated:
“Building strong partnerships and preparing ourselves for all types of real-world scenarios are great opportunities that we wouldn’t be getting if we were still at our home station. Working with our NATO allies is our number one priority for our time here at RAF Lakenheath.”
What was also remarkable about this deployment was how little was known about it beforehand. In this day and age where there is a vast network of aviation enthusiasts on the internet and every little movement or deployment is tracked, it highlighted an important point that a deployment of this size with the latest fifth-generation fighters can be kept quiet and under wraps until the last moment. It seems that even in this incredibly connected world the element of surprise is alive and well.
According to Col. Novotny, many lessons were learned from the exercise that will ensure faster, simple and if necessary more lethal deployments in the future:
“Deploying Raptors here and integrating with our efforts in these areas has been a phenomenal success. During their deployment, we were able to integrate seamlessly into some of the largest fighter exercises in Europe.”
The US Air Force has not stated whether it will send F-22s back to Europe in the near future for more exercises. However, the service is intently focused on advancing air-to-air threats and emerging threats of the same nature that will challenge both the US’s ability to gain and maintain air superiority, and NATO coalition partners and how the USAF can assist them.
With Russian-Western relations at an all-time low, tensions in the Ukraine and on-going fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya against ISIS, the need to be ready to deploy assets such as the F-22 quickly and efficiently seems to be at the front of the minds of US military planners. Not only that but deployment exercises such as this one also send out the message that the US has the ability to strike rapidly anywhere in the world on their terms.
The F-22 Raptor deployment ran from April 18 through to the May 6 with the first two waves (totaling eight aircraft) departing back home on the May 8. Below is a list of aircraft that took part in the exercises:
F-22A Raptor 04-4072/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4094/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 04-4080/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4107/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4091/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4084/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4086/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4089/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4106/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 04-4081 (Marked as 05-4081)/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4101/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
F-22A Raptor 05-4095/TY – 325th Fighter Wing / 95th Fighter Squadron
For their parts in the production of this article, AeroResource would like to extend their sincere thanks to the personnel of the RAF Lakenheath Public Affairs Office for their hospitality and cooperation throughout the duration of this deployment.