Press Releases

31 FW, multinational allies conclude Astral Knight 21

Release Number: 020521

Senior Airman Neil Farbotnik, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief, inspects an F-16 that flew in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 18, 2021. Eight F-16s assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron are participating in AK21, which is a joint, multinational exercise designed to test integrated air and missile defense capabilities. The participating aircraft include the U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, HH-60 Pave Hawk and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, Italian air force F-35 Lightning II aircraft, Hellenic air force F-16 and Emb-145 Erieye aircraft, and Croatian air force MiG-21 BisD/UMD aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman Neil Farbotnik, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief, inspects an F-16 that flew in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 18, 2021. Eight F-16s assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron are participating in AK21, which is a joint, multinational exercise designed to test integrated air and missile defense capabilities. The participating aircraft include the U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle, HH-60 Pave Hawk and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, Italian air force F-35 Lightning II aircraft, Hellenic air force F-16 and Emb-145 Erieye aircraft, and Croatian air force MiG-21 BisD/UMD aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Airman 1st Class Austin Riddell, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew member, puts a cover on an F-16 Fighting Falcon that landed after participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy May 18, 2021. AK21 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. AK21 is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on conducting integrated air and missile defense of various terrains. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Airman 1st Class Austin Riddell, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew member, puts a cover on an F-16 Fighting Falcon that landed after participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy May 18, 2021. AK21 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. AK21 is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on conducting integrated air and missile defense of various terrains. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman Juan Monroy, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief, provides post-flight operations on an F-16 participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 18, 2021. Eight F-16s assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron are participating in AK21, which is a joint, multinational exercise designed to test integrated air and missile defense capabilities. AK21 involves approximately 1900 combined joint force members from the Albanian, Croatian, Hellenic, Italian and Slovenian militaries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman Juan Monroy, 555th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief, provides post-flight operations on an F-16 participating in Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 18, 2021. Eight F-16s assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron are participating in AK21, which is a joint, multinational exercise designed to test integrated air and missile defense capabilities. AK21 involves approximately 1900 combined joint force members from the Albanian, Croatian, Hellenic, Italian and Slovenian militaries. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron takes off in support of 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 and service members from the Croatian, Hellenic, Italian, and Slovenian forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron takes off in support of 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 and service members from the Croatian, Hellenic, Italian, and Slovenian forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron participating in 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 Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

A U.S. Air Force Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron participating in 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 Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

The 31st LRS consists of four flights covering Fuels Management, Materiel Management, Vehicle Management, and Deployment and Distribution, and exercises like Astral Knight 2021 provides Wyvern Nation with the opportunity to strengthen the communication and capabilities between the U.S., host nations and NATO Allies.

Airman 1st Class Robert Day, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron aircraft parts store apprentice, takes inventory of materials at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 18, 2021. The 31st LRS consists of four flights covering Fuels Management, Materiel Management, Vehicle Management, and Deployment and Distribution, and exercises like Astral Knight 2021 provides Wyvern Nation with the opportunity to strengthen the communication and capabilities between the U.S., host nations and NATO Allies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Savannah L. Waters)

The 31st LRS consists of four flights covering Fuels Management, Materiel Management, Vehicle Management, and Deployment and Distribution, and exercises like Astral Knight 2021 provides Wyvern Nation with the opportunity to strengthen the communication and capabilities between the U.S., host nations and NATO Allies.

Airman 1st Class Ryan Taylor, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron aircraft parts store apprentice, takes inventory of materials at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 18, 2021. The 31st LRS consists of four flights covering Fuels Management, Materiel Management, Vehicle Management, and Deployment and Distribution, and exercises like Astral Knight 2021 provides Wyvern Nation with the opportunity to strengthen the communication and capabilities between the U.S., host nations and NATO Allies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Savannah L. Waters)

Airman 1st Class Laderran Lawston, 606th Air Control Squadron radio frequency technician, adjusts wires on an Airbus Ranger satellite communication terminal in use during Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 17, 2021. During AK21, the 606th ACS used the satellite to transmit radar and radio data to 606th ACS air controllers in Slovenia and Croatia, enabling them to control their airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Airman 1st Class Laderran Lawston, 606th Air Control Squadron radio frequency technician, adjusts wires on an Airbus Ranger satellite communication terminal in use during Astral Knight 2021 (AK21) at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 17, 2021. During AK21, the 606th ACS used the satellite to transmit radar and radio data to 606th ACS air controllers in Slovenia and Croatia, enabling them to control their airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Tech. Sgt. Timothy Puente, 606th Air Control Squadron (ACS) tactical satellite communication (SATCOM) production supervisor, right, and Airman 1st Class Laderran Lawston, 606th ACS radio frequency technician, left, discuss the Airbus Ranger SATCOM terminal’s capabilities at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 17, 2021. During Astral Knight 2021, the 606th ACS used the satellite to transmit data to forward-deployed locations in Slovenia and Croatia, enabling the controllers to control the airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Tech. Sgt. Timothy Puente, 606th Air Control Squadron (ACS) tactical satellite communication (SATCOM) production supervisor, right, and Airman 1st Class Laderran Lawston, 606th ACS radio frequency technician, left, discuss the Airbus Ranger SATCOM terminal’s capabilities at Aviano Air Base, Italy, May 17, 2021. During Astral Knight 2021, the 606th ACS used the satellite to transmit data to forward-deployed locations in Slovenia and Croatia, enabling the controllers to control the airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder)

Senior Airman Timothy Carrier, left, Airman 1st Class Ashley Pilkerton, middle, 606th Air Control Squadron (ACS) surveillance technicians, and Tech. Sgt. Jeremiah Tatum, right, 606th ACS operations section chief, set up satellite communication antennas in support of Astral Knight 2021 in Mali Losinj, Croatia, May 18, 2021. The antennas allow the 606th ACS to communicate and transmit data with the 603rd Air Operations Center, the operational command and control center. (Courtesy Photo)
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Senior Airman Timothy Carrier, left, Airman 1st Class Ashley Pilkerton, middle, 606th Air Control Squadron (ACS) surveillance technicians, and Tech. Sgt. Jeremiah Tatum, right, 606th ACS operations section chief, set up satellite communication antennas in support of Astral Knight 2021 in Mali Losinj, Croatia, May 18, 2021. The antennas allow the 606th ACS to communicate and transmit data with the 603rd Air Operations Center, the operational command and control center. (Courtesy Photo)


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

Astral Knight 21 was 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.

Airmen from across the 31st FW supported the exercise including personnel from the 31st Medical Group, 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron, 31st Operations Support Squadron, 606th Air Control Squadron, 555th Fighter Squadron, 56th Rescue Squadron, and 57th RQS.

Astral Knight 21 aimed to broaden command and control capabilities and conduct Integrated Air and Missile Defense of various terrains, and the 606th ACS supported this mission from Aviano and forward-deployed locations in Slovenia and Croatia.

The 606th ACS utilized the Theater Operationally Resilient Command and Control (TORCC) weapons system and relayed IAMD and command and control to pilots participating in the exercise, including directions for missions and threat awareness.

“While in Croatia, we utilized the full component of our agile C2 system TORCC for the first time in a major exercise,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Daniel Eyrolles, 606th ACS chief of agile mission and site lead in Croatia. “We are developing proof of [concept of operations] for future TORCC deployments in and around USAFE-AFAF.”

During AK21, training also involved a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios which demonstrated the readiness and force protection capabilities for NATO enhanced forward presence forces.

Participating aircraft included 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.

The 555th FS F-16s worked with ally aircraft and executed defensive counter air vulnerability windows where ‘blue’ air defended against a simulated threat attempting to attack targets of value on the surface.

During some of these DCA vulnerability windows, the 56th RQS provided combat search and rescue capabilities while operating out of Cerklje Air Base, Slovenia. The 56th RQS also conducted bi-lateral gunnery and close air support training with Croatian armed forces.

The 31st OSS also provided intelligence support for the DCA vulnerability windows through source analysis, battle tracking, request for information management, debriefs, and mission planning.

All 31st FW aircraft participating in the exercise were supported and maintained by the 31st AMXS. The 31st AMXS also conducted hot-pit operations and cross-servicing with Italian air force F-35s from Amendola Air Base, Italy.

Additionally, Airmen from the 56th Helicopter Maintenance Unit enabled the 56th RQS and 57th RQS missions which provided rescue operations and support to pararescue teams from locations near Cerklje Air Base, Solvenia.

In order for all of these units to execute operations during Astral Knight 21, the 31st LRS provided extensive pre-planning support which also bolstered interoperability between the U.S. and the host nations of the bases the 31st FW operated out of.

Astral Knight 21 allowed nearly all 31st LRS Air Force Specialty Codes a chance to participate in the exercise through planning, execution, and post action operations. This included personnel from the traffic management office cargo section, ground and air transportation units, vehicle maintenance unit, supply unit, logistics planners, and the petroleum, oil and lubricants flight.

“Making any event such as AK21 a success requires a ton of deliberate, thoughtful planning through in-person communication and good teamwork by understanding the goals and requirements of each participating unit,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Alexander Yee, 31st LRS director of operations. “The LRS has a lot of AFSCs and Airmen involved in making any movement happen, especially on the pre-planning stages prior to the flying window execution dates.”

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

Astral Knight 21 has continued 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.