Currently seven USAF KC-135 planes are deployed in eastern Europe to support US Army and Allies operations.

USAF KC-135 A-10 F-16 Saber Strike
USAF tankers provide fuel to A-10s and F-16s at Saber Strike 18.

During the U.S. Army Europe led exercise, Saber Strike 18, USAF KC-135s provided aerial refueling to A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and F-16 Fighting Falcons over Latvia. Tankers' operations were crucial to increase the airpower.

“On any given flight we can carry more than 200,000 pounds of fuel and refuel multiple aircraft to increase their range of effectiveness,” said Senior Airman Andre McClain, 171st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. “Potentially, we can double or even triple an aircraft’s maximum flight time. We can keep refueling aircraft to keep them in the air, as long as we have enough gas to get us back home safely.”

By efficiently leveraging the in-flight refueling capability, pilots can more quickly respond to threats and assist friendly forces.

“In comparison to refueling on the ground, aerial refueling cuts down the time it takes to refuel an aircraft by approximately an hour and a half,” said McClain. “This gets the aircraft back in the fight much faster. Saber Strike has been the perfect opportunity to practice this capability.”

Currently there are seven KC-135s deployed in eastern Europe: two aircraft from the 127th Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, arrived at Riga International Airport on June 2 while other five planes assigned to the 459th Air Refueling Wing, Beale AFB, California, 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, UK, 931st Air Refueling Wing, McConnell AFB, Kansas, and 126th Air Refueling Wing, Illinois ANG, arrived at Lviv Danylo Halytskyi International Airport, Ukraine, in early June. 

In addition to the Saber Strike, the tankers are flying other missions to allow the United States and partner nations to further integrate capabilities and enhance interoperability.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Source, Images: USAFE

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