493rd EFS flies to protect Iceland's air sovereignty
Boeing F-15C Eagle from 493rd Fighter Squadron, 48th Figther Wing based at RAF Lakenheath / © Philip Stevens
KEFLAVIK, Iceland -- The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is conducting Icelandic air policing missions here until June 7. The 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, 493rd EFS commander, deployed from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
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.
Airmen from RAFs Lakenheath and Mildenhall, England, Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases, Germany, and Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada are currently deployed to Keflavik International Airport.
"This is a unique opportunity, especially for the younger guys, to see alert (operations)," said Capt. Charissa DeLion, KC-135 pilot, deployed from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, 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.
Beyond the alert operations, the mission provides U.S. personnel the opportunity to interact with their NATO partners, specifically Estonia and Iceland. "It helps build interoperability; being able to work with them is critical," said DeLion.
From Estonia is one control and reporting center officer and one air field manager. "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.