Airmen of the world meet at Arctic Challenge 2017
By Tech. Sgt. David Dobrydney, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 26, 2017
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.