Tag Archives: F-22

USA turns Norway into new stronghold, includes F-22

In the wake of Russia’s higher military activity ever since Moscow took the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Norway is slowly growing into a US stronghold in the defence of Scandinavia. A conclusion drawn by Airheadsfly.com based on recent political and military deals, that include the possible basing of up to four US Air Force F-22 Raptors on the threshold of Oslo.

It seems like reading pages of a Cold War book, but the reinforcement of Norway as a base of US military operations in Scandinavia is slowly progressing for real – on the ground and in the air. Key seems to keep Southern Norway at all times under NATO air, ground, sea and cyberspace control. The area we talk about is roughly 500 square kilometres (320 sq miles) and includes Norway’s primary air force base of Ørland, the nearby reserve air base of Vaernes/Trondheim, NATO’s main tanker and transport reserve base of Sola (Stavanger), the reserve air base of Rygge (Moss) near the capital of Oslo, plus the main civilian airports of Olso-Gardermoen, Sondefjord/Skien and Florø. At the same time, the US is projecting its wings at the Norwegian outpost of Andøya in the Polar Circle.

A bunch of RNoAF marking RNoAF F-16 readiness over Rygge in 2010 (Image © Forsvaret)
A bunch of RNoAF fighters marking RNoAF F-16 readiness over Rygge in 2010 (Image © Forsvaret)

Quite unexpected Washington has asked Norway to make space at the no longer air-active Rygge Airbase/Moss Airport for four of its combat aircraft, and the US is willing to pay for the necessary infrastructure and support. According to Pentagon documents the top military brass wishes to be able to place at least four Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor stealthy air superiority fighters on Rygge. “Yes, the basing of these aircraft is one possibility, but it can be other types of aircraft as well,” Norwegian Minister of Defence Frank Bakke-Jensen confirmed to the Norwegian newspaper of Aftenposten on June 13th.

Rygge Air Base

Rygge was once a proud operating base for Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16 jets, before 330 (Fighter) Squadron moved to Bodø in the north. For a long time the three RNoAF DA-20 Falcon reconnaissance and intelligence gathering aircraft of 717 Squadron operated from Rygge, before moving to Oslo-Gardermoen.

RNoAF Bell 412SP with serial 167 coming in low, sporting Gatling guns on both sides of the aircraft (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
RNoAF Bell 412SP coming in low, sporting Gatling guns on both sides of the aircraft. (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Six Bell 412SPs ground support and assault choppers from 720 Squadron and the Westland Sea King SAR detachment of 330 Squadron flew from Rygge until the mother Rygge unit of 137 Air Wing was decommissioned in 2014. With regular air ops gone, the base did not fall asleep. The Air Operations Inspection, the Air Force’s Development and Competence Center, the Armed Forces Logistic Organisation, the Flight School Selection Center, the Oslofjord’s Home Guard (HV-01) and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation are still holding their offices on Rygge. Add the US Air Force with combat aircraft in the near future.

Marines Division in Norwegian caves

Further north the US Marines are progressing on their establishment. A new political deal between Washington and Olso allows the sea soldiers to grow from the current level of 330 to 700 troops at Camp Vaernes. From there they are protecting up to a Marines division (23,000 troops) worth of tanks, armoured and soft vehicles, ammunition, food, water and other supplies stored in caves on at least five locations in the area around Norway’s third largest city in population.

A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy just after take-off from Ramstein AB, Germany (Image © Marcel Burger)
A Lockheed C-5 Galaxy just after take-off (Image © Marcel Burger)

C-5 Galaxy at Vaernes

The marines unit is a semi-permanent one, officially rotating its personnel every few months through the adjacent Vaernes/Trondheim International Airport. The airfield is a main reinforcement hub in case of war and can handle up to six giant Lockheed C-5 Galaxy strategic airlifters plus loads of smaller aircraft at any time. Much of the military infrastructure of Cold War times is still intact and the army/marine barracks of the camp can accommodate up to 1,200 troops, both from the US Marines and the Trøndelag Home Guard (HV-12).

In a few years these pilot views on Ørland Main Air Station will be history, when these F-16s have been replace by the new F-35A Lightning II (Image © David Vo / Luftforsvaret)
In a few years these pilot views on Ørland Main Air Station will be history, when these F-16s have been replace by the new F-35A Lightning II (Image © David Vo / Luftforsvaret)

Ørland Main Operating Base

Vaernes is no longer an active military airbase for many decades, but it is still very well protected even without the USMC on site. It is situated deeply in a fjord, surrounded by mountains and has the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s primary airbase of Ørland just 50 km (43 miles) away. From there the RNoAF not only operates its core F-16 squadron, but also its brand-new Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealthy jets.

One of three RNoAF F-35s of the second batch just after landing on Ørland Air Base on 22 May 2018 (Image © Forsvaret)
One of three RNoAF F-35s of the second batch just after landing on Ørland Air Base on 22 May 2018 (Image © Forsvaret)

During the last week of May the F-35s doubled to six aircraft when a new batch of three arrived from the other side of the Atlantic. Another seven RNoAF F-35s are flying training missions from Luke AFB in Arizona, USA, and three more will arrive on Ørland this Autumn. Final plans call for 52 RNoAF Lightning II jets by 2024. Most of them will fly from Ørland, with Evenes near Harstand/Narvik in the north serving as a forward operating base.

A USMC CH-53 flew in to Vaernes by USAF C-5 Galaxy in February 2016 (Image © Cpl Dalton Precht / USMC)
A USMC CH-53 flew in to Vaernes by USAF C-5 Galaxy in February 2016 (Image © Cpl Dalton Precht / USMC)

Andøya Naval Air Base

While Evenes will also be home to the Royal Norwegian Air Force maritime patrol aircraft moving from Andøya, the US Navy is just starting operations from this very northern air base with its new Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft. The first of five USN P-8s landed at Andøya on June 8th, from where they will take over the defence and patrol of NATO’s northern flank from the aging six RNoAF P-3 Orion propeller aircraft. Even a USN C-40A Clipper was seen landing there, in support of the operations.

A RNoAF P-3C Orion from 333 squadron during the DV-day under the winter exercise Cold Response 2012 (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A RNoAF P-3C Orion from 333 squadron (Image © Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvarets mediesenter)

Oslo doesn’t want to say how long the US Navy presence on Andøya will be, but in the near future the RNoAF will fly five similar P-8s from Evenes Airbase further south. Norway ordered the pack to replace its six P-3s and three Dassault DA-20 Falcons in the years 2022 and 2023. The RNoAF 333 Squadron operating the P-3s has huge problems with fulfilling its task, both because the aircraft are not airworthy while repairs and maintenance are being slow, and because there is lack of key and supporting personnel in the unit. According to local newspapers 30 to 50 people quited or will quit working for the unit after the move from Andøya to Evenes was announced.

A USN P-8A Poseidon, a RNoAF P-3C Orion and a RNoAF C-130J Hercules at Andøya Air Station on 24 June 2017, during the 75 years anniversary of the Orion's 333 Squadron (Image © Forsvaret)
A USN P-8A Poseidon, a RNoAF P-3C Orion and a RNoAF C-130J Hercules at Andøya Air Station on 24 June 2017, during the 75 years anniversary of the Orion’s 333 Squadron (Image © Forsvaret)

While Norwegian armed forces readiness is partly failing the US seems eager to step in. Washington is even establishing closer ties with the non-NATO countries of Sweden and Finland, with both the governments in Stockholm and Helsinki signing deals recently for more military cooperation with the USA and more frequent joint military exercises. In case it ever comes to war in Northern Europe, the US seems to be better prepared and better military established than it has been there for 20 years.

© 2018 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: One of four F-22A Raptors the Pentagon wishes to be able to base on Rygge AB near Olso, Norway (Image © Elmer van Hest)

A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn't have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
A NATO Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS leaving Ørland Main Air Station. As Norway doesn’t have a flying radar, command and control plane available, NATO often provides one to defend its northern flank (Image © Nils Skipnes / Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets mediesenter)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on an American B-52 training over Norway (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)
From the back seat of a RNoAF F-16BM, closing in on an American B-52 training over Norway (Image © 331 SQN / Forsvaret)

Raptors visit Europe again, to stay until May

In a surprise move and repeating last year’s visit to Germany,  US Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors are seen in European skies again. Four jets arrived at Lakenheath airbase in the UK in the afternoon of Monday 11 April. The jets are here to conduct training with other Europe-based aircraft, said the US Air Force in a statement.

The advanced jets are deployed from the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. They will continue training until May. In 2015, the first official deployment to Europe took place as four aircraft flew to Spangdahlem in Germany. They remained there for four weeks of flying in the European theater, venturing close to Russia while doing so.

The arrival of the Raptors in the UK comes as a surprise. Upon landing, their visit was first linked with a planned visit of F-22s later this month in France. On 20 April, the US Air Force’s most potent fighter aircraft is scheduled to participate in the 80th anniversary of French Air Force Escadron de Chasse (EC) 2/4, flying Mirages at Istres-Le Tubé airbase in southern France. It remains unclear of the aircraft expected in France, are the same jets now deployed to the UK.

U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)
One of the F-22s is seen here with a Lakenheath-based F-15E. (Image © US Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

Security package

The US  last week also deployed F-15 Eagles to Europe. They take part in exercise Frisian Flag in the Netherlands, about which an inside report will appear here at Airheadsfly.com very soon. The F-15s will stay in Europe for six months as part of a Theater Security Package.

The F-22 however is a seldom seen sight in Europe. Raptors have on rare occasions used the UK and Spain as stop overs to destinations elsewhere.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A Raptor four-ship. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

US to base F-35s next to F-22s in Alaska

The US Air Force has selected Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska as a future home for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The base will house two squadrons equipped with the 5th generation fighter aircraft. Alaska, the only US state that borders Russia, already is home to F-22 Raptor jets at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage.

“The decision to base two F-35 squadrons at Eielson AFB will double our fifth-generation fighter aircraft presence in the Pacific theater,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “It’s an exciting time for Pacific airpower.”

Construction

On-base construction to prepare Eielson airbase for the aircraft is expected to start in fiscal year 2017. The first F-35As are currently scheduled to arrive in 2020. The jets will join the F-16 aggressor squadron currently assigned to Eielson AFB.

Overseas

In a press release, the move is described as leading to the “first operational overseas F-35A Lightning IIs”. That would mean the Eielson-based aircraft are to be mission ready before the F-35s that are projected to be based at Lakenheath airbase in the UK, another overseas US airbase planned to operate F-35s in the future.

Meanwhile, the first Air National Guard base to host F-35s, will do so earlier than originally planned. Burlington Air Guard Station in Vermont is now scheduled to receive aircraft in fall 2019.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Raptors join Lightnings at UK Air Tattoo at Fairford

US Air Force F-22 Raptors will join US F-35 Lightning II fighter jets during the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in July. They are part of the Air Combat Command (ACC) F-22 Raport demo team. According to a posting on the team’s Facebook on Tuesday 23 February, the team will be present in July at Fairford.

The F-22 will join the Lockheed Martin F-35’s announced earlier. The presence of both fifth generation fighter aircraft can without a doubt be regarded as a show of force of advanced Western military firepower. The F-22 has been on display at Fairford before, but never alongside its smaller and newer Lockheed Martin F-35 stablemate.

Dutch airshow

The F-35 should see it’s UK air show debut at Fairford this year, after a ditched attempt in 2014. However, the type’s first ever airshow appearance outside the US should take place at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands in June. A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35A will cross the Atlantic this spring for what the Dutch call ‘perception flights’, plus the appearance at Leeuwarden.

The F-22 was a rare sight in Europe for many years. That ended with the deployment of four jets to Germany in 2015 as a show of force to Russia.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: An F-22 Raptor heads for the skies. (Image © Airman 1st Class Amanda Morris / USAF) 

US Theater Security Packages by the numbers

An informative infographic released on Wednesday 6 January by US Air Force in Europe (USAFE) gives more details about the three Theater Security Packages that deployed from the US to Europe in 2015. Most impressive number: 26 nations saw ‘support’ from those packages.

The Pentagon announced the first Theater Security Package (TSP) to Europe early last year as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The move of sending fighter aircraft to Europe was a clear reponse to Russia’s attitude over the Baltics and Ukraine in particular.

Thunderbolts

The first TSP consisted of twelve A-10C Thunderbolts from Davis Monthan Air Force Base and arrive at Spangdahlem airbase in Germany on 13 February. See Airheadsfly.com’s report on their arrival here. The attack aircraft and their crews visited numerous European countries during their six month stay.

Spangdahlem-based F-16Cs chase this Davis Monthan A-10 down to the runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Spangdahlem-based F-16Cs chase this Davis Monthan A-10 down to the runway. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Eagles

April saw twelve US Air National Guard F-15 Eagles arrive in Europe for participation in various exercises. Airheadsfly.com’s interview with their commanding officer is here. In September, the third TSP crossed the Atlantic, again consisting of A-10C Thunderbolts.

The deployment of four F-22 Raptors to Germany in August formally never was a full TSP. The sending of those aircraft perhaps gave a stronger message than the three TSPs combined, however.

In 2016, more TSPs are scheduled according to US officials. A batch of F-15s is expected to participate in various military exercises.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: One of the US Eagles in Europe in 2015 (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Two engines, more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Two engines, more noise. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Four F-22s about to overfly Spangdahlem for a historic deployment. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Four F-22s about to overfly Spangdahlem for a historic deployment. (Image © Elmer van Hest)