31 FW, multinational allies conclude Astral Knight 21

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  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

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.