US, Royal Air Forces partner for Exercise Eastern Zephyr

An F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia taxiis prior to take off at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 12, 2017. Airmen and aircraft from the 48th Fighter Wing, the 1st Fighter Wing and the Royal Air Force have been training together during Exercise Eastern Zephyr, which started Oct. 10. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Eli Chevalier

An F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia taxiis prior to take off at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 12, 2017. Airmen and aircraft from the 48th Fighter Wing, the 1st Fighter Wing and the Royal Air Force have been training together during Exercise Eastern Zephyr, which started Oct. 10. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Eli Chevalier)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- Airmen and aircraft from the 48th Fighter Wing, the 1st Fighter Wing, and the Royal Air Force have been training together during Exercise Eastern Zephyr, which started Oct. 10.

Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd Fighter Squadron commander, said the RAF-led exercise seeks to increase partnership and capabilities between the U.S and U.K.

"Specifically, it is a bi-lateral exercise to continue to develop and refine fourth and fifth generation fighter integration at the tactical level and to strengthen ties between our two nations at the operational and strategic level," he said. "Any time that we get the opportunity to train with our partners, it provides invaluable lessons on how to work together on a specific mission set but more importantly it sends the message to the region and to the world about our shared commitment to a secure Europe."

Along with F-15C Eagles and F-15E Strike Eagles from the 48th FW, visiting F-22 Raptors from the 1st FW are also participating in the exercise while here as part of a flying training deployment.

"Eastern Zephyr has been a joint RAF/USAF exercise led by the Typhoon Qualified Weapons Instructor Course on 29 Sqn," said an RAF spokesperson. "The exercise was designed to bring together large numbers of fourth and fifth generation aircraft operating together in U.K. airspace."

The training opportunity has paved the way for the arrival of the F-35 Lightning II next year when fourth and fifth generation interoperability will become a daily occurrence within the U.K., the spokesperson said.

The first F-35B Lightning II aircraft for the RAF are projected to arrive at RAF Marham next summer, according to an RAF article published in July, while the 48th FW is scheduled to receive its first permanent F-35A Lightning IIs in 2021.

"We are indebted to the U.S. Air Force for the exceptional support they continue to provide the Typhoon Force both at home and on operations abroad," the RAF spokesperson said. "Typhoon and Raptor aircraft flying alongside each other has demonstrated a potent capability that both nations are proud to operate."

Lt. Col. "Habu," 94th Fighter Squadron commander, said, "For a century now, the 94th Fighter Squadron has had a close relationship with our Royal Air Force friends and partners beginning with 'The Hat-in-the-Ring Gang's' "first deployment to the United Kingdom in 1917 prior to operations on the Western Front during World War I."

Over the course of this exercise, the squadron has conducted local familiarization training across the U.K. and participated in multiple large force exercises involving up to 40 aircraft at once, he said.

"The high level of professionalism and airmanship demonstrated by all of the squadrons involved has been incredible, and our ability to seamlessly operate together is critical in maintaining a safe and secure Europe," the commander said.