Arctic Challenge 2023: Nordic defense requires the F-35’s advanced capabilities

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Olivia Gibson
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Air Force’s 493rd Fighter Squadron from the United Kingdom’s RAF Lakenheath forward deployed to Norway’s Ørland Air Base to take part in Arctic Challenge Exercise 2023 alongside Norwegian, Dutch, and Italian F-35A Lightning II advanced stealth fighters and other coalition aircraft supporting the two-week exercise occurring May 29 through June 9 across Scandinavia.

The large-force, live-fly field training exercise emphasizes joint and combined air operations between Nordic Allies and Partners, and this year’s iteration, led by Finland, brings together 13 nations and a NATO coalition to further Arctic security initiatives.

Arctic Challenge provides an opportunity for U.S. forces and Allied and Partner nations to adapt to the difficulties of operating in the Arctic's harsh environment, as well as to enhance interoperability and key relationships through U.S. European Command’s advanced fifth-generation fighter program.

“The 493rd is here to integrate with NATO Allies and Partner nations in flag-level missions,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Cameron Fierro, 493rd Fighter Squadron B Flight Commander. “Having four F-35 squadrons operating in Arctic Challenge is allowing us to test and improve processes we have in place for mission planning, operating and debriefing together.”

The 493rd Fighter Squadron, nicknamed the Grim Reapers, was re-established in 2022 with the advanced F-35 platform after transitioning from the F-15C Eagle. Arctic Challenge offers the first opportunity for the unit to deploy alongside other fifth-generation nations to execute and train across a variety of scenarios in the harsh Nordic environment.

The F-35 advanced suite of the latest technology allows for networking with other nations while still maintaining its stealth and versatility, which is critical to combined training in exercises such as Arctic Challenge.

“The F-35 provides air domain battlespace awareness for Arctic Challenge which is testing our capabilities to operate in the Arctic climate,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Nicholas Cruz, production superintendent of the 493rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “The maintenance team's mission is to produce reliable, combat-capable aircraft while overcoming the unique challenges of the environment by integrating with our partner nations.”

The Grim Reapers are set to carry out 142 sorties over the exercise resulting in 285 flight hours, which requires a team of professional maintenance technicians capable of serving the 24/7 mission.

U.S. European Command’s decision to organically host the F-35 in the United Kingdom furthers U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s ability to better integrate and operate with Allies and Partners throughout the European theater. The 493rd Fighter Squadron’s participation in Arctic Challenge contributes to enhancing the coalition’s ability to deter adversaries throughout the High North.