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Air combat exercise Iron Hand 15-2 enhances interoperability in Europe

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Pilots from all U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa's fighter airframes came together at Spangdahlem Air Base in December to participate in a five-day training exercise called Iron Hand 15-2.

"Iron Hand 15-2 is unique because it is a U.S.-only air combat exercise with the intent of enhancing interoperability," said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, the 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander. "Interoperability is important not only between services and partner-nation air forces, but also among aircraft and mission sets within our own Air Force."

The proximity of Spangdahlem AB to other fighter wings in Europe proved to be valuable for this type of exercise.

"We were able to bring in the fighters from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, and Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Spangdahlem (AB)'s central location," Roberson said. "It's the perfect air space for us to do this kind of high-end training."

Roberson not only oversaw the exercise from the ground but also got a firsthand view of the training from the cockpit of an F-15E Strike Eagle.

"It was such a monumental effort that Lt. Gen. Roberson came out to witness and participate in this rare training opportunity," said Lt. Col. David Berkland, the 480th Fighter Squadron commander. "We don't often get to plan, brief, fly and debrief face-to-face with our fellow USAFE fighter warriors, let alone our 3rd Air Force commander."

The exercise's focus was on suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) tactics which limits enemy air defenses to allow military assets greater freedom of movement in hostile environments -- the 480th's specialty.

"Spangdahlem (AB) is the only SEAD asset for (European Command) and (Africa Command)," Roberson said. "It's important that all three fighter squadrons could work together on this specific type of training so when the threat is real, we are ready."

The exercise not only allowed pilots to sharpen their skills, but also gave the Airmen on the ground a chance to hone their abilities.

"We had another awesome performance from our aircraft maintenance Airmen," Berkland said. "We don't bring firepower to the war unless our maintainers give us combat-ready jets, sensors and weapons. This exercise proved what a great ops-maintenance team we've built."

The combined efforts of three different fighter squadrons, maintenance Airmen and key leadership allowed Iron Hand 15-2 to reach its objective of increasing USAFE-AFAFRICA's fighter airframes air readiness and capability.