NATO Team ensures safe skies during Riga Summit

  • Published
  • By Maj. Lisa Neidinger
  • 3rd Air Force Public Affairs
While Airmen around USAFE were gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, duty called for more than 450 other Airmen in seven European countries to support the NATO Riga Summit in Latvia.

Called Operation Peaceful Summit, the military effort enhanced ongoing Baltic Air Policing activities with additional aircraft, communications and maintenance support to ensure safe skies as 26 heads of state met at NATO's Riga Summit.

Preparations began with Airmen deploying before Thanksgiving. Members of the 32nd Air Operations Center, Ramstein provided traffic control, air battle management plus command and control, while Airmen from First Combat Communications Squadron, Ramstein provided vital communications support to link the NATO combine and joint operation. Aircraft support included F-15 Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, F-16 CG Fighting Falcons from Aviano Air Base, Italy, F-16 CJ Fighting Falcons from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, KC-135 Stratotanker Aerial Refuelers from RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning Systems from Geilenkirchen, Germany and Army HH-60 Helicopters from the 3rd of the 158th Aviation Regiment, Katterbach, Germany. Additionally, Ramstein's 86th Airlift Wing flew myriad support missions using C-130, C-20 and C-21 Aircraft.

USAFE Commander General Tom Hobbins led the overall effort in his NATO role as Commander, Air Component Command said the mission was complex but that Airmen executed with great professionalism. "What we did was provide was provide military aircraft and infrastructure to assist not only with the President of the United States visits to Tallin, Estonia and Riga, but to the overall NATO Summit Nov. 28 and 29th."

Gen. Hobbins explained that up to 25 fighter aircraft were patrolling the joint area of operations at any given time to ensure safe skies in the Baltics. "We had a very good NATO recognized air picture, oftentimes called a RAP, fed in by all the NATO Combined Air Operations Centers, showing all the aircraft in flight. Whether it was a cargo airplane, a civilian aircraft or a military aircraft, we had all those aircraft in our system and we knew exactly what their flight plans were, what their routes of flight were programmed for, what transmissions would come from their identifications systems. We had a God's eye view of the joint air operations space and ensured no one flew into the restricted airspace."

Over six months of planning laid the groundwork for Operation Peaceful Summit. Officials prepared by running 12 different tabletop exercises and practice intercepts. "In every case, our teams performed superbly," Gen. Hobbins said. "I feel such a tremendous sense of pride in watching our folks succeed under the most amazing weather conditions."

Weather throughout the joint area of operations proved difficult at times, but thanks to prepositioned aircraft at Udem, Germany, Skrydstrup, Denmark and Siauliai, Lithuania, plus the aircraft operating out of home station at Mildenhall and Lakenheath in the UK, Geilenkirchen, Ramstein and Spangdahlem in Germany, plus Aviano, Italy, flexible forces provided the right mix of needed aircraft.

When asked if there were any tense moments during the NATO summit, Gen. Hobbins said that while there were instances where they had to check aircraft identification, but great coordination paid off. "No one flew in the JOA accidentally and we didn't have any issues," Gen. Hobbins said. "I have a lot of pride in what we've done...I often say it's all about the team, and that was especially true during Operation Peaceful Summit."