Air Force, NATO fly to protect Iceland's air sovereignty
Airmen from Nevada to Germany are currently deployed to conduct Icelandic air policing missions until June 7.
The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which is made up of U.S. Air Force and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization personnel, is a specialized team prepared to ensure Iceland's air sovereignty.
"In this NATO mission, we identify and escort unauthorized aircraft before they reach Iceland's sovereign air space," said Lt. Col. Michael Casey, the 493rd EFS commander.
The squadron is made up aircraft and Airmen from RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall, England; Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases, Germany; and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. In order to conduct the air policing, the squadron's F-15C Eagles, KC-135 Stratotankers and C-130J Hercules are on alert 24/7.
"We practice scramble launches and when we receive an alert, the F-15s can be in the air within 15 minutes," said Casey, who is deployed from the 493rd Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
The KC-135 is in place to support the F-15Cs in bad weather while the C-130J and its pararescuemen are prepared to conduct combat search and rescue, squadron officials said.
"This is a unique opportunity, especially for the younger guys, to see alert (operations)," said Capt. Charissa DeLion, a KC-135 pilot.
Beyond the alert operations, the mission provides U.S. personnel the opportunity to interact with their NATO partners, specifically Estonia and Iceland. For example, one control and reporting center officer and one air field manager come from Estonia.
"It helps build interoperability; being able to work with them is critical," said DeLion, who is deployed from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England.
"We are proud to be working with other NATO members," said Casey. "They are integrated into the (Control Reporting Center), with active control of the missions alongside U.S. Airmen."
U.S. Air Force F-15Cs were permanently stationed in Iceland until 2006, but now conduct the air policing mission in conjunction with NATO in support of the U.S.-Iceland bilateral Defense Agreement of 1951.