ÄMARI AIR BASE, Estonia --
The Colorado Air National Guard participated in Saber Strike 18, which provided the unique opportunity to drop live MK-82 500 bombs for the first time in the Baltic region June 3-15, 2018.
Nineteen nations, including NATO's enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups trained with European allies and partners to capitalize on the unique opportunities during Saber Strike, to maintain stability and security in the Baltic Region.
During this eighth iteration of the long-standing U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise, the members of the COANG were met with challenges, obstacles and a handful of firsts, improving readiness and preparing Airmen and Soldiers for any potential future conflict.
“There are so many amazing opportunities that we have been able to do for the first time during this deployment,” said Lt. Col. Jason Kneuer, detachment commander for the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard.
One of those firsts was procuring the munitions that were dropped in place, for use while in Estonia. This is something the COANG has never had to coordinate in the past and has made them a more ready and capable unit if it was to ever be needed again, Kneuer explained.
“In the past, munitions were already in place upon our arrival, so this is the first time we had to coordinate the logistics to get them here for us to use,” said Master Sgt. Todd Lupien, senior munitions inspector in the 140th Maintenance Group ammunitions section. “This has not only helped us gain the know-how, but given us the confidence if we ever had to do this for a real world deployment/scenario.”
Although receiving munitions from a different country was a first for Buckley, dropping live munitions in Estonia was also a first. Unfortunately, there were environmental factors that created challenges as well. Tapa Range in Estonia was the primary range selected for live bomb drops, but weather wasn’t cooperating. It was unusually hot and dry, so the possibility of dropping live bombs there was no longer an option, as the conditions made for extreme fire danger. Although, because of the partnerships built in the Baltic region, the 140th Wing was able to coordinate for live bomb drops at Adazi Range in Latvia, which became the new drop zone.
“One of the benefits to moving the drops to the Adazi Range was the interoperability to interact with a different group of joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) from not only the United States, but from Latvia as well,” explained Lt. Col. Christopher Melka, director of operations,120th Fighter Squadron, COANG. “They could very well be somebody we have to fight with one day. That’s always extremely valuable to have that partnership already established.”
The Adazi Range has never been used for live munition drops before, so this not only provided an opportunity for the COANG pilots to adapt to a mission change, but gave them a unique opportunity to help the Adazi range get certified for live drops, allowing it to be utilized by multinational forces in the future.
“Since this range has never had any live ordinances dropped on them, we were in a certification type process, validating the procedures they (the Latvia Air Force) put into place,” said Melka.
“This exercise is so invaluable for its strong international partnerships,” Kneuer said in closing. “When we see each other, when combat has approached, we have already exchanged business cards in friendly times, so when we go to war its seamless.”