US Air Force conducts training exercise over the North Sea

Sam Russell, PA

US Air Force aircraft from the UK, Germany and Italy have taken part in a training exercise over the North Sea during the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 100 personnel and 38 aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets, participated in Wednesday’s exercise, which aimed to “sharpen combat readiness”, said large force exercise planner Captain Nathan Hartoin.

Captain Hartoin, of 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, said the exercise allows the US Air Force to train together and is becoming a regular activity.

A total of 38 aircraft took part in the exercise (US Air Force/PA)

“The primary purpose of it is to conduct the training with the other USAF units to sharpen our combat readiness and increase the tactical proficiency which allows us to maintain a ready force capable of ensuring the collective defence of the Nato alliance,” he said.

He added that video calls enabled planning during the pandemic and further measures were in place to guard against coronavirus.

“Once we get out to the jets, there’s a procedure for decontaminating the jets along with the pilot flying and then decontaminating after the flight as well,” he said.

The exercise is becoming a regular activity, the USAF said (US Air Force/PA)

“And then, as pilots go out to the jets, they’re able to maintain social distance from their ground crews.

“Along with in-mission planning, we’re able to maintain the space based on the size of the working area that we actually have, then we’re able to maintain that space again via the video teleconferences across different bases.”

The exercise involved F-16 fighter jets from Aviano Airbase in Italy and Spangdahlem Airbase in Germany, alongside KC-135 Stratotanker refueller aircraft from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

A spokesman for EuCom, the US European Command which co-ordinates military activity in Europe and has its headquarters in Stuttgart in Germany, said: “We have not seen an increase in threatening activity from any potential adversaries in the European theatre; however, we continue to train and stand ready to counter any potential threat that may arise.”