MIDDLE RIVER, Md. – Approximately 170 Airmen assigned to the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard and A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft have returned from Europe, where they supported Exercises Swift Response and Defender Europe 22.
The 10 Maryland A-10s, assigned to the 104th Fighter Squadron, flew more than 240 sorties and operated in 10 countries throughout Europe to execute Agile Combat Employment. ACE is the Air Force concept of quickly mobilizing and deploying aircraft, personnel and equipment across a theater of operations to project combat power anytime, anywhere.
“To demonstrate the capabilities of the 175th Wing to NATO allies and partners, our objectives were to enable our Airmen, execute ACE operations, and integrate joint live fires,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Griffin, an A-10 pilot and the project officer for the exercises. “To take this concept from paper and bring it to reality is quite an amazing accomplishment for all of our Airmen involved.”
These future warfighting concepts exercise decentralized operational decision-making and distributed military operations in austere environments, said Griffin. Principles of ACE focus on mission planning, launching, recovering and maintaining aircraft from a hub-and-spoke arrangement with allies and partners.
For the first two weeks of supporting Swift Response, the Maryland Air National Guard demonstrated a flexible force projection model split by over 1,700 miles with simultaneous operations in Norway and North Macedonia. Four A-10s and approximately 50 Airmen operated out of Andoya Air Base in northern Norway, within the Arctic Circle.
At the same time, six A-10s and approximately 60 Airmen conducted operations from a warmer environment at Ohrid Airport in North Macedonia. From both locations, the A-10s facilitated joint forcible entries by paratroopers into Scandinavian, Baltic, Balkan, and Black Sea regions with forward air control and close air support for the United States and partner ground forces.
“We had to be creative, think outside the box, and we had to operate in a different manner that kept our aircraft ready, reliable and relevant,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Rutt, commander of the 175th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “When we do this, our Airmen get a lot of extra training. With the different climate and heavy operational tempo, they see aircraft breakdowns they don’t normally see in a home environment, so they needed to find a way to get the parts to keep the aircraft mission-ready and ready for success.”
Halfway through the month, the A-10s and all the personnel and equipment packed up and relocated to the Baltics to support Defender Europe. Another 60 Airmen joined the exercise in Latvia. After all 10 A-10s consolidated in Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia, split operations began again.
Six A-10s remained at Lielvarde AB and conducted operations in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia. The other four moved to Amari Air Base in Estonia and later operated out of the Estonian island of Saaremaa.
Maryland National Guard senior leaders, including U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Timothy Gowen, adjutant general for Maryland; U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jori Robinson, 175th Wing commander; and U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Edward Jones, Maryland’s assistant adjutant general for air, observed the A-10s forward air refueling from a MC-130J Commando assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing at Kuressaare Airport on the southern part of Saaremaa.
Also that day, the A-10s supported the U.S. Army High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System live-fire exercise from the island’s north side, coordinated by the 291st Digital Liaison Detachment, Maryland Army National Guard. The 291st DLD enabled interoperability between Estonian Defense Forces and U.S. Army V Corps throughout the exercise.
A key to the mission was having Airmen trained in more than one field to reduce the overall footprint.
“Despite the deliberately reduced number of Airmen and limited equipment, our combat range of our A-10s was incredibly large,” Jones said. “We relied on our Airmen down to the lowest level to be multicapable so we could accomplish all our goals. It was a phenomenal display of our capabilities, and I’ll be bragging on our Airmen to whomever will listen.”
One example was Airman 1st Class Samantha Condor, a crew chief with the 175th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. In addition to preparing the fighter jets, she juggled her other job – working on the hydraulics systems of the A-10.
One of the last missions was the most challenging logistically and operationally. Airmen and equipment from Kuressaare were relocated by multiple airlift sorties from the 167th Airlift Wing, West Virginia Air National Guard’s C-17 Globemaster aircraft to Siauliai International Airport in Lithuania. After setting everything up in the morning, the A-10s arrived for rapid rearming and refueling, known as an integrated combat turn, before returning to the range. After the last A-10 departed, the Airmen packed up again and departed to Lielvarde AB on the C-17.
“This entire mission throughout Europe would not have been possible without the support of our friends from West Virginia,” said U.S. Lt. Col. Paul Doran, an A-10 pilot and project officer for the exercises. “Their aircrew and aerial porters were critical to making sure our Airmen and equipment quickly moved efficiently and safely so we could project air power dynamically and extend our combat range.”
Planning for the exercises began over a year ago. In less than a month, May 4-31, Maryland A-10 pilots supported training with joint terminal attack controllers from 11 NATO nations during 500 live close air support controls that expended 17,211 rounds of 30 mm, 18 AGR-20 laser-guided rockets, six AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, and 12 BDU-50 inert 500 lb. bombs.
“We have proven that we can execute the [ACE] concept that is often talked about,” said Griffin. “The Airmen of our maintenance team, our logistics team are capable of doing this. It was challenging. It takes a lot of planning and a lot of strong relationships with our partners, but it is doable and it can be expanded upon.”
Griffin said future exercises would likely work with more and different partners while building on the relationships developed through these exercises that increase interoperability and support NATO.
“We want to make sure our partners and allies know that we are here for them and that we can integrate with them to provide mission success,” said Rutt. “This is all imperative to ensure regional security [in Europe] and our commitment to that security is upheld.”
Defender Europe and Swift Response are annual, U.S. Army-led exercises to build readiness and interoperability of U.S., NATO and partner militaries.