52nd FW F-16s conclude ACE, WIC deployment in the Netherlands

Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons and airmen from the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) 52nd Fighter Wing (FW) at Spangdahlem Air Base (AB) in Germany have recently completed an agile combat employment (ACE) deployment to the Netherlands.

The multi-role fighters – assigned to the 52nd FW’s 480th Fighter Squadron ‘Warhawks’ – and their associated air/ground crews travelled to Leeuwarden AB in the Dutch province of Friesland on September 10 to achieve two operational objectives. This short deployment concluded on September 17.

480th FS F-16C/Ds taxi by at Leeuwarden 13-09-21 [USAF/Tech Sgt Anthony Plyler]
Three Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons from the 52nd FW's 480th FS 'Warhawks' taxi back to the flightline after landing at Leeuwarden AB in the Netherlands on September 13, 2021. This deployment marked the first ACE operation for the 52nd FW outside of Germany. USAF/Tech Sgt Anthony Plyler

The first objective demonstrated the 52nd FW’s ability to execute a short-notice ACE deployment to another air base in Europe. The wing’s second objective was to integrate their F-16C/Ds with other coalition-operated Fighting Falcons and Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighters during the suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) phase of the Dutch-led Weapons Instructor Course (WIC), which included participants from the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway.

Lt Col Shaun Loomis, commander of the 480th FS, said: “This ACE deployment to Leeuwarden AB is significant because this is the first Spangdahlem ACE deployment to a non-US base. Learning these lessons in training is critical to ensure that the wing is ready to execute a real-world deployment if tasked. It highlights things we couldn’t even imagine during planning…

“The integration with NATO F-35 Lightning II aircraft is paramount to [unleashing] the full fighter capabilities to overcome the contested environments that our adversaries will throw at us. Previously, Spangdahlem’s F-16s were the only SEAD fighter platform in [the US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) command]. Evolving SEAD capabilities with the effects that the F-35 Lightning II aircraft brings to the table increases [the] survivability of NATO assets exponentially,” he added.

480th FS F-16C takes off from Leeuwarden 14-09-21 [USAF/Tech Sgt Anthony Plyler]
Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcon - serial 91-0360 - assigned to the 52nd FW's 480th FS 'Warhawks' departs Leeuwarden AB in the Netherlands on September 14, 2021. USAF/Tech Sgt Anthony Plyler

The ACE concept is designed to provide greater flexibility, manoeuvrability and survivability for the USAF’s fighter fleet during real-world combat operations against near-peer adversary threats. Having an ability to conduct missions from multiple, dispersed locations also provides more options for the Combined Forces Air Component commander. Prior to arriving at Leeuwarden, the 52nd FW had previously completed ACE exercises at Ramstein AB, Germany, which was used to simulate a host nation base.

Maj ‘Cribs’, the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNLAF’s) WIC commander, highlighted the importance of SEAD training and integration. He said: “The [WIC] and our participating air forces greatly benefit from the integration with the Spangdahlem F-16s. Especially in the SEAD role, where we can learn from each other’s experiences. By learning to use the fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, we enhance our capabilities as a team and are ready to meet future challenges together.”