Thursday, January 06, 2011

Royal Air Force aircrews to train at Offutt

by Ryan Hansen, 55th Wing Public Affairs

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- Whether it's performing strategic bombing missions in World War II, defending Europe during the Cold War, monitoring Iraqi no-fly zones, or battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force and the U.K. Royal Air Force have been close allies for many years.

Recently, this partnership was bolstered once again when an agreement was reached between Department of Defense and the U.K. Ministry of Defense officials that allows the RAF members to purchase three RC-135V/W Rivet Joint aircraft during the next seven years.

As part of this new agreement, Airmen here were tasked to train the initial cadre of RAF aircrews. The Airmen here have the Air Force's only operational RC-135 wing, the sole provider of Rivet Joint initial qualification training.

Once trained, the RAF crews will be allowed to fly on U.S. Rivet Joint aircraft, called co-manning, until the U.K.'s RC-135 fleet reaches full operational capability.

The first group of RAF aircrew members are scheduled to arrive Jan. 11.

"We are truly excited about this unique opportunity to have members of the RAF training with us here," said Brig. Gen. John N.T. Shanahan, the 55th Wing commander. "The U.K.-U.S. special relationship has been the cornerstone of relations between the two countries and we look forward to strengthening our intelligence ties through this cooperative arrangement."

Pilots, navigators, electronic warfare officers and a host of intelligence operators and airborne maintenance technicians from 51 Squadron at RAF Waddington are all scheduled to attend the training.

"The RAF is delighted to be joining the (Rivet Joint) component in a new era of joint training and operations," said RAF Wing Commander Garry Crosby, who is in the initial training group and will assume command of 51 Squadron in June.

"We look forward to sharing some peculiar British customs with our U.S. colleagues and competing with the (Airmen) of Offutt (AFB) in a variety of sporting challenges," he continued. "Most of all, we are looking forward to our first training missions on a Rivet Joint and then setting our sights on future operational success together."

The visiting RAF personnel will be assigned to the 338th Combat Training Squadron while at Offutt. They'll participate in course work that is standard curriculum for anyone in the Air Force assigned to the RC-135V/W Rivet Joint.

"The first group of 51 Squadron personnel in course number one are the pioneers," Wing Commander Crosby said, "and they face a demanding period of training."

Airmen taking part in this cooperative program are RAF aircrew members who are mostly from the retiring RAF Nimrod R1 aircraft. Like the Rivet Joint, the Nimrod includes a sophisticated and sensitive suite of systems used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering.

"Almost everyone who joins the co-manning program will have Nimrod R1 experience," Wing Commander Crosby said, who has two tours on the Nimrod R1 himself and almost 5,000 flying hours. "Some have been with the fleet only a year or so, but have operational experience from tours of duty in the Middle East."

The remaining RAF crew members participating in the program have backgrounds with either the E-3 Sentry or the Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance and maritime patrol aircraft.

Training will take between three and five months depending on specific crew positions. Once complete, the RAF aircrew members will be attached to the 55th Wing's 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron and return to the U.K.

The fully mission capable RAF personnel will have the ability to deploy from their home station alongside crews from the here starting as early as mid-2011.

"Our aircrews have flown alongside the United States Air Force for many years in a variety of conflicts," Wing Commander Crosby said. "Now, to fly in the same aircraft brings the best of both fleets together to support operations."

"Through this new agreement, we'll have a unique opportunity for mission integration and information interoperability, which will be advantageous to both countries," General Shanahan said. "The RAF Nimrod crews are some of the most capable ISR experts in the world and we look forward to taking advantage of their wealth of experience as part of the Rivet Joint team."

Although training of maintenance and other support personnel is covered under this agreement, it is not currently part of the co-manning memorandum of understanding. However, DOD and MOD officials are working on an additional training plan that will be synchronized with planned RC-135 deliveries to the U.K. in late 2013.

"The U.K. will be able to fly their own global ISR missions, as well as offer relief to 55th Wing aircrews by shouldering some portion of 55th WG-tasked ISR missions," General Shanahan said. "As part of this agreement, 55th Wing aircrews will also be permitted to fly on RAF RC-135 aircraft."

Nearly 100 RAF airmen are scheduled to train at Offutt (AFB) throughout 2011.