A 2015 “Year in Review” Message from CINC Warhawk, Lt.Col. David J. “Ajax” Berkland:

Nation, thank you for an amazing year. I hope you’re enjoying well-deserved time off with family and friends. As you do so, you might want to reflect on all your hard work that led to an extraordinary year. I continue to be honored to be your commander, and humbled to work with all of you. We were propelled by being named USAFE’s Fighter Squadron of 2014, but you didn’t slow down and had yet another banner year in 2015. As the only US Fighter Squadron stationed in central Europe, you all kept the Nation forward, ready, now.

With unparalleled performance in 2015, we honored the Nation’s combat legacy from WWII to Afghanistan; proud to be Vietnam’s first MiG-21 killers, the first gun killers, and the first kill by a Lieutenant aircraft commander with a total of 9 MiG splashes in the conflict.  Also, 2015 was the 48th year since legendary Warhawk Lieutenant Lance P. Sijan was downed over North Vietnam, and his heroic “First In, Last Out” legacy lived on this year in the Warhawks.

The team had an exceptional year while deployed for 259 days in 2015.  Maintaining full combat readiness amidst increasingly tense EUCOM and CENTCOM Areas of Responsibility (AOR), we mobilized NINE TIMES.  Three Operation ATLANTIC RESOLVE (OAR) rotations, three Flying Training Deployments (FTD), the largest AFRICOM exercise ever, the largest US-ONLY RED FLAG Exercise in over 10 years, a COMBAT ARCHER exercise during which the Warhawks employed the CAF’s first AIM-120D from an F-16, and NATO’s largest exercise in over 20 years. But, the Warhawk team did not simply deploy and execute these taskings, you all dominated them, with operators earning accolades from COMACC for the “Best Joint Integration” ever seen at RED FLAG, and our maintainers lauded for “Best AGM-88 ops” to date, among other distinctions.  While the Warhawk AMU tirelessly generated 4,360 sorties and 6,678 flying hours in FY15, by far the CAF’s largest single-AMU Flying Hour Program (FHP), with a staggering 88% Mission Capable (MC) Rate, your fighter pilots employed 4,724 simulated Air Dominance weapons with a remarkable 98.4% validity rate, helping the Nation stand on the shoulders of giants like Sijan to remain forward, ready, now.

If you recall, we aggressively dove into 2015 in January by simultaneously relocating to a new, state-of-the art $4M facility and embarking on a $2 million mobilization of 18 aircraft and 300 personnel to Souda Bay, Greece for our first 2015 FTD.  In Greece, Warhawks produced 425 sorties in less than four weeks, continuing our 98% Maintenance Scheduling Effectiveness rate in an unfamiliar, austere environment.  Warhawks tallied 188 bilateral training sorties and 16 LFEs with Hellenic Air Force Mirage 2000s, F-4s, and F-16s.  The Warhawks focused training on Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) and Defensive Counter-Air (DCA) missions in the favorable weather and unrestricted over-water airspace.  Warhawk maintainers established “hot pit refueling” operations for the first time ever at Souda Bay, instructing Navy personnel on this capability and benchmarking a critical airpower enabler at the key Eastern Mediterranean staging base.  Recognizing the strenuous deployment schedule ahead of them, our maintainers shipped critical parts and equipment directly from Greece to our next TDY location, Romania. These kits would eventually be shipped forward five more times, and not return to Spangdahlem until late September 2015 as a result of near continuous 2015 deployments.

Having avoided the typically poor home-station winter flying weather, the EFS redeployed home in mid-February and continued the relentless TDY schedule by ramping up for a POTUS-directed OAR deployment to Romania in March.  Once on station at Campia Turzii, Romania, with 160 airmen and 6 F-16s, our maintainers got to work generating airpower in the highly-contentious Black Sea region.  To establish a bilateral Air Superiority capability, the Warhawks organized and led the first-ever Exercise DACIAN WARHAWK, a Counter-Air Exercise with Romanian MiG-21s and over 60 airmen, visibly demonstrating Allied resolve in light of Russian aggression.  Your Warhawk pilots conducted an additional 32 bilateral DACT sorties with the Romanian MiGs, while maintainers delivered 73 missions with ZERO Maintenance Non-Delivered (MND) sorties over the two week deployment.  This was the first of three Warhawk OAR deployments in 2015, and the Nation was hailed by visiting COMUSAFE and the Romanian Minister of Defense for our innovative Counter-Air training efforts to secure the DoD goal of bilateral readiness, deterring further Russian advance.

Following Romania, we mobilized for a JCS-directed Exercise AFRICAN LION, the largest exercise ever on the African continent.  Deploying to Africa for the first time, 130 airmen and 6 F-16s began operations from remote Ben Guerir Air Base in Morocco where they teamed with Moroccan F-5s and F-16s to comprise the air element of the 3,000 person Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF).  Across Saharan Africa, the Warhawks launched 65 bilateral missions and 124 flight hours, providing key training to Moroccan F-16 pilots still learning our new fighters. Warhawk maintainers delivered airpower in typical fashion, generating 98% of scheduled sorties, vastly exceeding forecasted attrition numbers for the unforgiving African deployed environment. Again, the Nation proved its ability to globally project combat airpower, this time validating key AFAFRICA plans in the African AOR.

The team returned to Germany for a “quick-turn” to another OAR rotation, this time to Poland.  In early June, we mobilized over 100 airmen and 6 F-16s to Lask AB, where the Nation generated and flew 81 deployed sorties.  In the skies over Eastern Europe, Warhawks integrated extensively with allied airmen across several Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground Air Dominance mission sets, coordinating 13 DACT LFEs with Polish MiG-29s, SU-22s, and F-16s, and executing the first JDAM drop from Lask AB.  Warhawks also introduced “hot-pit refueling” to the Poles for the first time, doubling sortie capacity and securing a key DoD objective to enhance NATO partners’ ability to receive and project Air Dominance forces in Eastern Europe.  In total, the Warhawks solidified bilateral Air Dominance TTPs with the Poles, reassured a key NATO ally, and deterred further Russian aggression in neighboring Ukraine.

We tagged Germany again briefly in late June facing another “quick turn” mobilization and deployment.  This time, in early July, the entire 480th maintenance and operations team would deploy 18 F-16s and 260 airmen across the Atlantic and nine time zones for Exercise RED FLAG 15-3, the largest US-Only, Special Technical Operations (STO)-level FLAG in over 10 years.  At Nellis, we went to work proving ourselves the premier fighter squadron in the USAF.

The Nation took the reins as Mission Commander and OCA lead on Night One, and after integrating the $5 billion, 70 aircraft Joint package to seal Air Superiority throughout the mission, the Red Flag Commander called it the best Night One mission seen in his decades of Red Flag experience.  We continued to lead from the front, with more Mission Commander slots than any other participating unit with seven missions, also fronting the SEAD package six times.  The Warhawks led the particularly challenging mission known as “Global Strike Night,” such a massive airpower event that the Commander of ACC (COMACC) attended the brief and live mission execution feed.  Blue forces took down the enemy IADS, destroyed 59 enemy aircraft, with only 2 losses in the high-risk scenario.  To begin his comments after the debrief, COMACC looked at the Warhawk lead and said, “That was the best Joint integration I’ve ever seen.”

While at RED FLAG, the Warhawks performed brilliantly across the board, generating a perfect 318 sorties on the sweltering July Nevada flightline.  Of 31 participating Joint units, the 480th outflew everyone, with an astonishing 10% of total exercise hours while crushing the CAF-average 4% Repeat/Recur write-up rate with an unheard-of 100% weapons release and gunfire rate.  Our maintainers also teamed up with our sister AMU from Shaw AFB to combine flight line operations, minimizing the bottleneck of over 150 taxiing aircraft, and ensuring ZERO late takeoffs due to arming flow.  Specializing not just in Air-to-Air, but the entire array of Air Superiority missions, we proved our multi-role mastery with the highest Air-to-Ground hit rate of any participating unit, edging out B-52, F-18 and F-15E units, among others.

With RED FLAG behind us, we immediately shifted 9 F-16s and 115 airmen to Hill Air Force Base for Exercise COMBAT HAMMER.  Undeterred by our youth, as evidenced by an unheard-of 75% “first PGM drop” level of experience, the Nation excelled at HAMMER with a 92% operator success rate and flawless maintenance performance, employing 51 precision guided munitions (PGM) worth over $15 million.  The Warhawks not only employed three AGM-88 HARMs and the first CAF F-16 AIM-9X fired at a moving surface target, but also assembled and employed the 52d FW’s first GBU-39 as well, validating the CAF’s next generation OCA-SEAD weapon.  While Warhawk maintainers perfectly built and loaded munitions with a superb 100% release rate, the pilots tallied 41 PGM hits, 23 on moving targets, and 20 successful strafe passes, all on moving vehicle targets.  In the end, the HAMMER staff praised the Warhawk team for “100% Technical Order adherence, zero safety discrepancies, and best AGM-88 operations seen to date.”

While half of our squadron remained in the Continental US, homestation Warhawks geared up for USAFE Exercise IRON HAND 15-2, a USAFE-wide Large Force Exercise (LFE).  Due to the increasingly volatile EUCOM AOR, the SECDEF ordered the first-ever F-22 deployment to Europe as part of the exercise.  The Warhawks bedded down our 5th Generation brethren, then took the lead in the Wild Weasel role, commanding the majority of the LFE missions, leading advanced Fighter Integration (FI) tactics, validating cutting-edge EUCOM contingency plans in the tense European theater by destroying 62 SAMs, allowing only 6 blue losses to surface threats, and keeping the $88M fleet of sensor pods at an amazing 92% Mission Capable rate.

Simultaneously, Warhawks still at Hill AFB turned their focus to Exercise COMBAT ARCHER. During this exercise, Warhawk maintainers assembled and loaded 15 Air-to-Air missiles with zero failures, while Warhawk fighter pilots successfully fired all 15 missiles with 100% valid shots, lethally engaging 9 target drones.  Warhawk maintainers were inspected by COMBAT ARCHER staff, who reviewed over 121 items and noted zero discrepancies.  The Nation also loaded and expertly employed the first AIM-120D shot from a CAF F-16, successfully validating the Air Force’s next generation Air Dominance Air-to-Air weapon and cementing the Warhawk’s status as THE Fighter Squadron in the USAF.

After the transatlantic redeployment back to Germany, the Warhawks enjoyed one week at home then as part of the President’s $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), deployed 6 F-16s and 97 airmen back to Poland for another round of OAR.  In Poland, the Warhawks generated 109 sorties for 188 flying hours, flew 15 LFE missions with Polish airmen, and again sealed DoD objectives to ensure bilateral airpower capability, reassure allies, and deter Russia.

Following Poland, the Nation geared up for its final deployment of 2015, this time to Beja Air Base in Portugal for Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE, the largest NATO exercise in over 20 years with over 30 participating nations and 36,000 personnel.  In Portugal, the Warhawks responded with 91 sorties, leading our NATO partners in missions all across Western Europe and demonstrating allied resolve amidst Russian maneuvers in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

In November, all Warhawks were finally back in Germany to conclude an historic 2015.  The Warhawk team aced 9 deployments, 3,108 Counter-Air missions, on a foundation of 944 Basic Fighter Maneuver (BFM) and ACM sorties, validly employed 98.4% of 5,724 simulated Air-to Air weapons.  AMU warriors produced 23% more sorties than our manning should have allowed, a resounding testament to your hard work and efficient use of scarce resources.  The Warhawks also mobilized over 1,150 tons of equipment around the world, clearly proving itself an expeditionary airpower force.  As we begin 2016, thank you for everything you’ve done to make the Great Warhawk Nation forward, ready, now as the USAF’s most lethal Fighter Squadron.