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31st Fighter Wing participates in Agile Combat Employment operations with Croatian Allies

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Miquel Jordan
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The 31st Fighter Wing is dedicated to strengthening relations with Allied Nations all through Europe and the world to remain engaged, postured and ready with credible force to assure, deter and defend in an increasingly complex security environment.

Recently, the 31st FW tested their force during Agile Combat Employment operations alongside Croatian Allies at Croatia’s 91st Air Base at Pleso, from March 15-17, 2022.

“The 31st FW is here in Croatia to train with our NATO Allies and hone our skills to be prepared for any challenges that are presented to us,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Russell Main, 555th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot and ACE project officer. “ACE is executing the mission by taking your normal daily duties to an austere environment in different locations, presented with unique and different challenges and finding ways to still accomplish the mission.”

During the ACE event, two F-16Cs practiced tactical intercepts with Croatian MiG-21 jets.

“This skill can be used in a multitude of scenarios including cooperative environments or combat,” said Main. “Getting a chance to employ an F-16C against a MiG-21 presents different challenges that we’re not used to, day to day. It’s a unique opportunity to have that experience as an F-16 pilot.”

By executing these concepts from Croatia, the Air Force builds and expands Allied and partner capabilities throughout Southern Europe and into the Mediterranean Sea.

“We were informed that we would get [U.S. Air Force] support to fly with us to patrol over the [Croatian] border, to get experience with [F-16C Fighting Falcons] so we could be well prepared,” said LtCol Zvonimir Milatović, 191st Fighter Squadron commander and MiG-21 fighter pilot. “We also discussed what certain missions could [entail], so we decided to make a couple of tactical intercepts, patrolling and information flying with [basic fighter maneuvers]”

Due to the high alert of the Croatian population with two U.S. Air Force aircraft training in the country’s capital, Zagreb, Gen. Jason E. Bailey, 31st FW commander, along with Croatian Defense Minister Mario Banožić, held a press conference to reassure the public of NATO’s dedication to an enduring alliance and partnership between the U.S. and Croatia.

“We stand and fly together as fellow NATO partners to perform concepts under the Agile Combat Employment, or ACE, framework while also supporting NATO’s collective defense efforts in Southeast Europe,” said Bailey. “What we do here, together, gets us one step closer to a more flexible, agile, cohesive machine that can respond to a variety of threats in a variety of domains in order to protect and generate combat air power in the defense of NATO.”

Although the training only lasted a few days, it was a rare opportunity for the F-16 pilots to engage with the MiG-21 aircraft, which is something most pilots look forward to. Integration between the two fighter squadrons provided a unique opportunity and invaluable aerial combat skillset. The training was an integral experience for both countries.

“The most important take away we get from these exercises is the relationships we build and learning how to accomplish the mission together,” Main said. “It’s an honor to fly with our Croatian Allies and the MiG-21, as historic of a jet that it is.”