ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England --
Last year, the Liberty Wing made history after becoming the first U.S. fighter wing and operational base to receive a “Full Assurance” rating from the RAF Inspector of Explosives during its annual inspection July 18-21, 2022, at RAF Lakenheath, England.
The Explosive Safety Inspection Team’s (ESIT) visit was to validate adherence to the United Kingdom’s safety regulations, which the Liberty Wing must manage and abide by in addition to U.S. standards.
The ESIT has been conducting inspections for more than 40 years, in which the UK has become known as being one of the most strict in the world when it comes to explosives safety, said Master Sgt. Kevin Cantrell, 48th Fighter Wing Weapons Safety superintendent. In order to achieve the Full Assurance rating, units must have zero findings, something simple as forgetting to spray nomenclature off of an empty box can cost that rating to go down.
“No other weapons safety managers in the world have to go through as much training just to do the day-to-day mission that we do here,” said Cantrell. “Our WSMs not only go through the rigorous U.S. explosives safety school but also through the UK's explosive safety school and train under NATO guidelines on top of that.”
In preparation for these inspections, units involved not only need to make sure they are properly maintaining the UK program, which includes items such as monthly facility inspections and managing work orders, but they also conduct physical cleanings, re-warehousing and coordinating with contractors. Because of the strict guidelines that need to be met, things as small as grass clippings and spider webs need to be removed regularly in all explosive facilities, which the 48th Munitions Squadron alone manages around 80 of.
“There are many people and organizations that contributed to the rating, but I would like to highlight the 48th Munitions Squadron, 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and 48th Civil Engineer Squadron for their work year-round,” said Cantrell.
Cantrell stated that there was one process change made that greatly assisted the wing, which was digitizing the UK's explosive safety program.
“Not only did the wing set a benchmark for other U.S. Air Force installations to begin switching over but they also set a benchmark in the RAF, as some of their bases have started looking into how to make the change,” he said.
Gary Williams, head of RAF ESIT, said part of the importance behind the thorough inspection at Lakenheath is the strategic location and assets they manage, making it a crucial piece in the defense of NATO.
"Lakenheath deserves additional credit, as it operates a significant number of armed aircraft parking bays, alongside storage of OME (munitions),” said Williams. “U.S. Visiting Forces standards are currently high, a credit to their safety wings and their cultures."