F 21 provides host nation support in massive NATO exercise

American fighters and tanker aircraft operating out of Luleå

Trident Juncture 2018, the biggest NATO exercise in several decades, is taking place in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland. Three American flying units are based at F 21 in Luleå, and the base is tasked with providing host nation support. This involves ensuring that the units are able to operate out of Luleå and attain their exercise objectives against and with the fighting forces from a total of 31 nations that are participating.

Sergejus Semasko, Erno Fazekas och Carina Wiklund discusses Trident Juncture 18 at the Norrbotten airbase (F 21). Photo: Jerry Lindbergh/Swedish Armed Forces
Roger Mannberg (acting head of host nation support) and Christoffer Edin (head of host nation support. Photo: Jerry Lindbergh/Swedish Armed Forces
An early morning for one of the F-16 aircraft in Luleå. Photo: Jerry Lindbergh/Swedish Armed Forces

Practising host nation support is a vital part of the Swedish defence philosophy, although reference is rarely made to it. In a world that is changing, cooperation and interoperability with other countries are fundamental. As part of Trident Juncture 2018, host nation support is being practised at the Norrbotten Airbase, F 21, in Luleå. Accepting foreign flying units and ensuring that they are capable of operating to the full extent required by the threat being practised makes demands of host nation support.

“Analysing Swedish requirements and procedures and the same for NATO presented the biggest challenges. What the differences are, and in turn what this means for F 21 and the support we have to provide,” says Christoffer Edin, head of host nation support.

A total of around 400 personnel from the US Air Force and NATO will be based at F 21 for the three weeks of the exercise. Most of them are from the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron, which is normally based in Spangdahlem in Germany. They have with them 18 F-16s, along with 27 trucks and a transport aircraft carrying spare parts and various items of peripheral equipment.

CABLE ACROSS THE RUNWAY

One clear example of how guests’ requirements differ from Swedish requirements is the fact that there has to be a cable at the end of the runway that can stop F-16s if anything goes wrong with the brakes, for example.

“We cast concrete foundations for this previously, and the Americans’ brake trailers, as they are known, that hold the cable can be bolted to these,” says Roger Mannberg, acting head of host nation support.

The voltages and frequencies of the equipment used and the level of airbase rescue and runway maintenance are other examples of elements that may differ between various nations, both routinely and in purely practical terms.

One issue that arose before the exercise began related to the flares and chaff used by American aircraft, which may be released in order to mislead enemy robots or radar. If any of these were to “click” – that is to say, not ignite as it should – is there any difference in how these are to be handled and destroyed on landing compared with a similar scenario for a Gripen aircraft? This issue was resolved in cooperation with another Swedish unit.

“We have been able to sort this out quickly and get everything to work. Being able to fly straight away when we arrived here was a major achievement. The Swedes are fantastic hosts,” says Michael Richards, head of the 480th Fighter Squadron.

AERIAL REFUELLING

Besides the fighter squadron, two aerial refuelling squadrons have landed at the most northerly airbase in Sweden. The 134th Air Refueling Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard and the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard have each brought with them KC-135 tanker aircraft. Being able to refuel fighters in the air is critical when the target is far away or when the sortie takes a lot of time for other reasons. Practising this capability has thus been included in Trident Juncture.

Edin and Mannberg are two of four people sharing the host nation support function so that there is always someone available 24 hours a day to deal with any matters that may arise. To assist them, they have all of F 21’s collective resources, including the security and intelligence function, the health unit, field support, the rescue service, logistics and – not least – a group by the name of “Real Life Support, RLS”. RLS is an implementation team that resolutely deals with anything that needs to be rectified. When one of the American hire vehicles broke down and was left standing in an inappropriate location, the implementation team took over. They moved it, dealt with communications with the company that hired them the vehicle and made sure that a vehicle was able to get onto the base and tow the vehicle away.

EXTENDED MONITORING

Although host nation support involves lots of elements, protection and monitoring are the most visible and most observed elements on the outside. Monitoring of the base has been reinforced, and the area of the protected military zone has been extended.

For Sweden, implementing host nation support in the manner currently being seen at F 21 involves the Armed Forces maintaining and developing their ability to rapidly receive and provide support to international partners – a very important consideration in case this kind of support should ever be needed in a live situation.

Besides the flying units, there is also a NATO liaison group on site in order to maintain liaison infrastructure, among other things. International exercise managers have also turned up.

There is a very good atmosphere at F 21 among Swedes, Americans and the NATO personnel who form part of the exercise management team, including people from Germany, Hungary and Lithuania. The facilities and cooperation are working well. So well, in fact, that there is time to focus on other things entirely.

“I am going to visit the Arctic Circle while I am here, and I have heard that Swedish chocolate is really tasty,” says aircraft mechanic Deema Alnaama at the 52nd Maintenance Group from Spangdahlem.