Thursday, July 28, 2011

SAFE SKIES 2011 demonstrates true collaboration

by Tech. Sgt. Charles Vaughn
144th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

7/27/2011 - MIRGOROD AIR BASE, Ukraine (AFNS) -- Airmen from the 144th Fighter Wing at Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif., are partnered with Ukrainian and Polish airmen at Mirgorod Air Base, Ukraine, through the National Guard State Partnership Program. Through this program, they have developed a strong tie to this former soviet bloc-country that is being displayed during SAFE SKIES 2011.

SAFE SKIES 2011 is a 2-week multinational flying event where members of the California and the Alabama Air National Guard help prepare airmen from Ukraine and Poland to better protect their airspace during EURO 2012, the upcoming European soccer championship games. ANG F-16 Fighting Falcons are playing a major role in this preparation by flying air sovereignty missions with both the Polish and Ukrainian air forces.

Officials from the California ANG have been planning this event since 2009.

"Our partnership has laid the foundation for this event, and this engagement is providing Ukraine an amazing opportunity to learn more about air sovereignty operations as they prepare for the EURO 2012," said Lt. Col. Robert Swertfager, the SAFE SKIES project officer and a member of the 144th FW.

During SAFE SKIES 2011 more than 60 air sovereignty air intercepts are scheduled. Members of the Western Air Defense Sector, who traveled to Mirgorod AB, provide support and work with their Ukrainian and Polish partners. Ukrainian SU-27s, Mig-29s and Polish F-16s intercept ANG aircraft during these air sovereignty events. The ANG F-16s act like distressed or hijacked aircraft, creating a potential airborne threat over the Ukrainian or Polish populace. Scenerios like these will require Ukrainian and Polish air force support and will force the partners to test their alter-response mechanisms, which will better prepare them for real airborne threats.

"We learned so much from the events of September 11, 2001," said Lt. Col. Kirk Toomey, the SAFE SKIES operations project officer and alert commander at the 144th FW. "We want to share from our experiences and better enable them to protect their citizens from any terrorist threats. Protecting the EURO spectators is similar to us protecting the football fans watching the Super Bowl."

During this event, the ANG pilots also will work with Polish airmen to test any communication limitations specific to air-sovereignty operations.

"The collaboration with Poland is also a very important aspect of this event," Toomey said. "Working with Poland is similar to the U.S. working with Canada. Understanding each others' tactics is critical to the collaboration required in air sovereignty missions.

"This state partnership initiative sets the foundation for future training with Ukraine," he said. "The lessons learned during this engagement will provide us with valuable information for deploying Fresno fighter aircraft and personnel in the future."

The two week event concludes July 28 with a friendship dinner.

"It's a time for us to reflect on the interactions that have taken place during SAFE SKIES 2011 and an opportunity to look forward to future partnership events," Swertfager said.