NATO team ensures safe sky during Riga Summit

  • Published
  • By Maj. Lisa Neidinger
  • 3rd Air Force Public Affairs
While Airmen around U.S. Air Forces in Europe were gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, duty called for more than 450 other Airmen in seven European countries to support the NATO Riga Summit in Latvia.

Called Operation Peaceful Summit, the military effort enhanced ongoing Baltic Air Policing activities with additional aircraft, communications and maintenance support to ensure a safe sky as 26 heads of state met at NATO's Riga Summit.

Preparations began with Airmen deploying before Thanksgiving. Members of the 32nd Air Operations Center from Ramstein AB provided traffic control, air battle management plus command and control, while Airmen from the 1st Combat Communications Squadron provided vital communications support to link the NATO combine and joint operation.

Aircraft support included F-15C Eagles from Royal Air Force Lakenheath in United Kingdom, F-16 Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Base in Italy, F-16s from Spangdahlem AB in Germany, KC-135 Stratotankers from RAF Mildenhall in England, E-3 Sentrys from Geilenkirchen in Germany, and Army HH-60 helicopters from the 3rd of the 158th Aviation Regiment from Katterbach in Germany. Additionally, Ramstein AB's 86th Airlift Wing flew a myriad of support missions using C-130 Hercules, C-20 and C-21 aircraft.

The mission was complex but that Airmen executed with great professionalism, said Gen. William T. Hobbins, the USAFE commander who also led the overall effort in his NATO role as commander, Air Component Command.

"What we did was provide was provide military aircraft and infrastructure to assist not only with the President of the United States visits to Tallin, Estonia and Riga, but to the overall NATO Summit Nov. 28 and 29," said the general

Up to 25 fighter aircraft were patrolling the joint area of operations at any given time to ensure a safe sky in the Baltics, said General Hobbins.

"We had a very good NATO-recognized air picture, oftentimes called a RAP, fed in by all the NATO Combined Air Operations Centers, showing all the aircraft in flight," he said. "Whether it was a cargo airplane, a civilian aircraft or a military aircraft, we had all those aircraft in our system and we knew exactly what their flight plans were, what their routes of flight were programmed for, what transmissions would come from their identifications systems. We had a God's eye view of the joint air operations space and ensured no one flew into the restricted airspace."

Over six months of planning laid the groundwork for Operation Peaceful Summit. Officials prepared by running 12 different tabletop exercises and practice intercepts. "In every case, our teams performed superbly," General Hobbins said. "I feel such a tremendous sense of pride in watching our folks succeed under the most amazing weather conditions."

Weather throughout the joint area of operations proved difficult at times, but because of prepositioned aircraft at Udem, Germany, Skrydstrup, Denmark and Siauliai, Lithuania, plus the aircraft operating out of home station at RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath in the UK, Geilenkirchen, Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases in Germany, plus Aviano AB in Italy, flexible forces provided the right mix of needed aircraft.

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