Press Releases

31 FW supports Astral Knight 21, partners with NATO allies

Release Number: 010521

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) takes off at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 13, 2021. This integrated air and missile defense exercise focuses on defending key terrain and is involving different flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) takes off at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 13, 2021. This integrated air and missile defense exercise focuses on defending key terrain and is involving different flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) takes off at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 13, 2021. This integrated air and missile defense exercise focuses on defending key terrain and is involving different flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron takes off in support of Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 13, 2021. AK21 is a joint multinational exercise involving Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors from the United States working with service members from Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Slovenia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Astral Knight 21 aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Timothy Joubert, 555th Fighter Squadron pilot, conducts a pre-flight check on a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon during Astral Knight 2021 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 13, 2021. Astral Knight 21 aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Savannah L. Waters)

Astral Knight 21 aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise.

U.S. Air Force Airman Jacob Wood, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, marshals a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon during Astral Knight 2021 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 13, 2021. Astral Knight 21 aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Savannah L. Waters)

Astral Knight 21 aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the integrated air and missile defense enterprise.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Timothy Joubert, 555th Fighter Squadron pilot, conducts a pre-flight check on a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon during Astral Knight 2021 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 13, 2021. Astral Knight 2021 is a joint, multinational exercise involving Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors from the United States working with service members from Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy and Slovenia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Savannah L. Waters)


U.S. Airmen, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and HH-60 Pave Hawks assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing are participating in exercise Astral Knight 21 at Aviano Air Base, Italy, from May 13-21, 2021.

Astral Knight 21 is a joint multinational exercise involving U.S. Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors from U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa, U.S. Army Europe-Africa, U.S Special Operations Command, Europe, and U.S. Naval Forces Europe, working with members from the Albanian, Croatian, Hellenic, Italian, and Slovenian armed forces.

Approximately 1200 Airmen from across the U.S. Air Force will be participating in the exercise including Airmen from the 31st Maintenance Group, 606th Air Control Squadron, 555th Fighter Squadron, 56th Rescue Squadron, and other 31st FW supporting units.

Training will focus on conducting Integrated Air and Missile Defense of various terrains and involve a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios. Additionally, the exercise will demonstrate the readiness and force protection capabilities for NATO enhanced forward presence forces.

Participating aircraft include U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles; F-16s; HH-60 Pave Hawks and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft; Italian Air Force F-35 Lightning II aircraft; Hellenic Air Force F-16s and Emb-145 Erieye aircraft; and Croatian MiG-21 BisD/UMD aircraft.

“We are excited to begin such a robust exercise with so many of our coalition partners for the largest USAFE-led exercise in Europe,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Semmel, Air National Guard mobilization assistant to the Commander, USAFE-AFAFRICA and AK21 exercise director. “By integrating U.S. and ally assets we are able to build greater awareness and strengthen our deterrence efforts, making our capabilities stronger and more resilient, improving readiness and responsiveness, and refining effectiveness and interoperability.”

Astral Knight 21 aims to enhance the command and control integration, coordination and interoperability of air, land and sea capabilities, and overlapping operations into the IAMD enterprise.

IAMD incorporates offensive and defensive measures to create a comprehensive joint and combined force capable of preventing an enemy from effectively employing its offensive air and missile weapons.

Training with our allies and regional partners allows for synchronized and prepared responses to regional security threats and world-wide contingency operations. This exercise builds upon the nations’ joint capabilities, ensuring a much stronger partnership and enhanced interoperability.

“This exercise allows us to demonstrate the 31st FW’s readiness and force protection capabilities while training with other nations to enhance our interoperability and relationships,” said Lt. Col. Evan Gardner, 31st Operations Group deputy commander. “It allows us and our allies and partners to prepare for potential operations in support of NATO and other multinational contingencies around the world.”

Astral Knight 21 will continue to improve U.S. and participating nation interoperability allowing participants to demonstrate their own unique roles in contributing to stability. Working together builds enduring strategic relationships contributing to global security and enhanced preparedness.