The 459th ARW completes participation in Arctic Challenge Exercise 21

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  • By By Senior Master Sgt. Megan Crusher

U.S. Air Force Reserve Airmen and KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, completed participation in Arctic Challenge Exercise 2021, June 18, at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, after two weeks of air refueling missions in the Arctic skies. 

Lt. Col. David Williams, ACE 21 deputy director for the 459th ARW said the exercise was a great success.

“We refueled 138 receivers and offloaded 677.9 thousand pounds of fuel.”

ACE 21 is a Royal Norwegian Air Force-led, Nordic large-force, live-fly Field Training Exercise hosted by Norway, Sweden and Finland, that creates a significant measure of autonomy for European partners and U.S. forces across the European theater to exercise high-intensity and global peer competitor combat scenarios. 

The joint, multinational exercise is conducted every other year and gave invited nations an opportunity to participate in Cross Border Training, conducted in northern parts of the Nordic countries. CBT events are cost-efficient exercises where the respective Nordic nations’ fighter jets operating from their home bases met in the air to practice a variety of scenarios in a unique airspace.

“[The] capability to operate together with Large Force Employment and Composite Air Operations is a remarkable achievement,” said Lt. Col. Tomi ”Scout” Iikkanen, base commander at Rovaniemi AB, Finland. “Air-to-air refuel capability is essential if we want to project a lot of air power to training area for a long period of time.”

Williams emphasized the importance of exercises like ACE 21 because they enhance the proficiency of everyone who supports fighter aircraft.
“We refueled American, Danish and Norwegian F-16s, and also Norwegian F-35s that were participating in their first exercise,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of working together, overcoming language barriers and different ways of doing things.”

ACE 21 included participation from Denmark, Finland, Germany, NATO, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the U.K., and involved a combination of flight operations, focused on joint and combined air operations. 

Iikkanen said the exercise was important to training in a multi-domain environment because more than 70 assets were airborne simultaneously and it was a great opportunity to increase interoperability between the participating nations.

“It is great to have different nations and units for air mission planning and execution, because we can learn a lot from each other, Iikkanen said.

Continual exercises and interactions between allied and partner forces, like ACE 21 allow us to work together as a team to address security threats in and beyond Europe and enable all participants to contribute to international coalitions.

“If it came down to it and we had to put things on the line against an opponent we could do so as one team as one fight,” Williams said. “We come together and form a more unified effort.”