Airmen of the world meet at Arctic Challenge 2017

An F-15C Eagle from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, prepares for the first sortie  of the day at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, May 25, in support of Arctic Challenge 2017. Continued, realistic interoperability exercises, such as ACE 17, allow the U.S., allies and partner nations to build their aerial expertise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

An F-15C Eagle from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, prepares for the first sortie of the day at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, May 25, in support of Arctic Challenge 2017. Continued, realistic interoperability exercises, such as ACE 17, allow the U.S., allies and partner nations to build their aerial expertise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

Two Finnish F/A-18 Hornets taxi to a runway at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, May 25, in support of Arctic Challenge 2017. Finland is hosting several nations throughout the two-week long exercise, aimed at improving interoperability and overall coordination between allies and partner armed forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

Two Finnish F/A-18 Hornets taxi to a runway at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, May 25, in support of Arctic Challenge 2017. Finland is hosting several nations throughout the two-week long exercise, aimed at improving interoperability and overall coordination between allies and partner armed forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

A French Rafale takes off at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, May 22, in support of Arctic Challenge 2017. Through exercises like ACE 17, U.S., allies and partner nations are able to build on their aerial expertise and create forces ready to respond to crises. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

A French Rafale takes off at Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, May 22, in support of Arctic Challenge 2017. Through exercises like ACE 17, U.S., allies and partner nations are able to build on their aerial expertise and create forces ready to respond to crises. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle from RAF Lakenheath, England, flies alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall following aerial refueling over Finland, May 25, 2017. Both aircraft are participating in Arctic Challenge 2017, a multinational exercise encompassing 11 nations and more than 100 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Dobrydney)

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle from RAF Lakenheath, England, flies alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall following aerial refueling over Finland, May 25, 2017. Both aircraft are participating in Arctic Challenge 2017, a multinational exercise encompassing 11 nations and more than 100 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Dobrydney)

An F-18 Hornet of the Finnish Air Force refuels from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall, England, following aerial refueling over Finland, May 25, 2017. Both aircraft are participating in Arctic Challenge 2017, a multinational exercise encompassing 11 nations and more than 100 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Dobrydney)

An F-18 Hornet of the Finnish Air Force refuels from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall, England, following aerial refueling over Finland, May 25, 2017. Both aircraft are participating in Arctic Challenge 2017, a multinational exercise encompassing 11 nations and more than 100 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Dobrydney)

F-18 Hornets of the Finnish Air Force fly alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall, England, during aerial refueling over Finland, May 25, 2017. All three aircraft are participating in Arctic Challenge 2017, a multinational exercise encompassing 11 nations and more than 100 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Dobrydney)

F-18 Hornets of the Finnish Air Force fly alongside a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall, England, during aerial refueling over Finland, May 25, 2017. All three aircraft are participating in Arctic Challenge 2017, a multinational exercise encompassing 11 nations and more than 100 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David Dobrydney)

KALLAX AIR BASE, Sweden -- -- For the past week, Airmen from 11 separate nations have been meeting in the skies over Sweden, Finland and Norway.
Now in its third iteration, Arctic Challenge is the largest European air exercise of the year, seeing more than 100 aircraft and 1,000 service members participate over a period of two weeks.

The goal of the exercise is increasing interoperability between the air forces of NATO and partner countries when conducting large-scale operations. The exercise scenarios are based on a mandate from the United Nations to project a multinational stabilization force should it be needed.

Most of the aircraft are fighters out of Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland, with additional aircraft hosted in Norway and Sweden.
Finnish Air Force Lt. Col. Sami Puuperä, the base commander at Rovaniemi AB, mentioned that this year is the first time Finland has had the lead role in shaping the exercise.

"Our core planning team has done very good work," he said. "We have solved all the problems which have challenged us so far."

Puuperä added that while his forces train with Norwegian and Swedish forces regularly, he's excited about the perspective the American Airmen bring due to their deployment experience. "They have a different background for this sort of training so we have been learning a lot."

A pilot with the U.S. Air Force 493rd Fighter Squadron from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, described the benefits of working with such a diverse group of Airmen.

"Any time we get to go to an exercise in a place where we haven't been and fly with people we haven't flown with, we're taken out of our comfort zone and we have to get back to the basics of our mission planning," he said.

Besides teamwork and re-affirming the basics, the 493rd FS pilot noted the educational aspect of seeing other nations’ air forces in action.

"You not only get to learn about different airframes, but you learn about different tactics, about how they operate, what they expect, what they train against," he said. "Then you get to pass on knowledge and experiences that are invaluable in the future for us.”

Meanwhile, those thoughts were echoed by Swiss Air Force Squadron 18 pilot Capt. Maurice Mattle, whose unit is operating out of Kallax Air Base.

"It's always good to see how they do it, how we do it, how others do it," said Mattle of the opportunity to observe procedures of the exercise participants.

Arctic Challenge is the first large-scale exercise Mattle has participated in, and though the missions have been long and intense, Mattle said it's been a wonderful experience.

"We are such a small country we're usually training ourselves," Mattle said, "now to be here with such a big unit with hundreds of other pilots, it's cool to see."

Information was provided by Airman 1st Class Abby Finkel, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs.