Tankers fuel war on terror

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Gino Mattorano
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The 380th Air Expeditionary Wing’s tanker squadron plays an essential role in the war on terror. KC-10 Extenders are a key part of the wings’ mission to provide coalition aircraft greater range and endurance for missions over Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pilots of the 908th Expeditionary Aerial Refueling Squadron at a forward-deployed location fly KC-10s and KC-135 Stratotankers, and the squadron is the only Air Force unit flying both aircraft.

“KC-10s have been here since the (1991) Gulf War,” said Lt Col. Mike Winters, 908th EARS commander. “In 2003, we brought in a squadron of KC-135s, but because the two aircraft integrate so well together, we combined the two units into one squadron.”

The squadron’s KC-10s and KC-135s refuel aircraft flying missions for operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

“On a daily basis, we refuel everything from F-15E (Strike Eagles) and F-16 (Fighting Falcons) to Marine Harriers and British Tornadoes,” said Maj. Mark Ustaszewski, director of operations for the 908th EARS KC-10s. “You name it; we refuel it.”

Coalition aircraft average 40 combat sorties daily in close-air support missions for main and alternate supply routes, and for troops in contact with hostile forces. The 908th EARS provides in-flight refueling capability ensuring coalition aircraft have enough fuel to perform their mission.

“Our intelligence officers brief us on the aircraft we refueled that hit targets,” Major Ustaszewski said. “That feedback helps our crews understand just how important the missions they fly are.”

An average KC-10 mission lasts six to eight hours, and crews may refuel as many as 10 aircraft and deliver 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of fuel, Major Ustaszewski said.

A key feature of the KC-10 that makes it ideal for combat operations is its capability to refuel nearly any aircraft. While Air Force jets can be refueled in flight through a refueling boom, other U.S. military and NATO aircraft are refueled through a hose and drogue system.

“The KC-10 can refuel either type of aircraft on the same mission,” Major Ustaszewski said. “A KC-135 has to be configured on the ground for one or the other, while the KC-10 is always configured for either system.”

In addition, the KC-10 can also be refueled in flight, which gives it the ability to take on fuel from another aircraft to increase its delivery range.

Working alongside the KC-135s, KC-10s make up a crucial element of the coalition’s ability to wage war on terror.

“Having both airframes in the same squadron creates a great deal of synergy,” Major Ustaszewski said. “It gives us the ability to do a lot more, a lot quicker.”