Ukraine hosted for the first time a multinational exercise named “Clear Sky 2018” .
On Oct. 6, 2018, U.S.A.F. F-15C’s Eagles, belonging to the 194th Fighting Squadron of the 144th Fighter Wing, California ANG, from California Air National Guard Base Fresno, California, landed for the first time ever on Ukrainian soil at Starokostiantyniv Air Base at dusk. The first Eagle was flown by Lt. Col. Christopher Ridlon, commander of the 194th Fighter Squadron, two days before the start of the operation.
Clear Sky 2018 was a joint and multinational exercise involving approximately 950 personnel from nine nations, including Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The exercise aimed to enhance professional skills of crews within the coalitional environment, increase of compatibility level with Air Force of the United States and other NATO nations, ensure effective joint command and control, and work out search and rescue operations, aeromedical evacuation, and cybersecurity.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of collaboration between the California Air National Guard and Ukraine as part of U.S. European Command’s State Partnership Program, and this exercise included the robust participation of California ANG units, California F-15C Eagles and a C-130J Super Hercules. Other U.S. aircraft participating in the exercise included an F-15D from the 48th Fighter Wing, KC-135s from the Illinois ANG and the 100th Air Refueling Wing, and MQ-9s operating out of Miroslawiec AB, Poland. The Pennsylvania ANG provided Joint Terminal Attack Controller instructors, and several additional units from California, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Alaska, Washington and bases in Europe were also scheduled to participate. The Ukrainian Air Force plan to assign 5 units of tactical aviation, included Su-24, Su-27, MiG-29 combat aircraft, and about 350 personnel.
Russian officials were concerned about that near the borders with Russia are concentrated NATO combat aircraft and fighters of the U.S. Air Force. It involved more than fifty aircraft from eight NATO member-states. U.S. aircraft participating include an F-15 fighters jets from the California Air National Guard ; KC-135s from the Illinois Air National Guard and the 100th Air Refueling Wing; and MQ-9s operating out of Miroslawiec Military Air Base, Poland.
It should be stated, really Ukraine is not NATO member, although relations with the alliance began in 1994. In 2014, following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine has been involved in a low-intensity conflict with Russian proxy forces in the east of the country, growing, as a consequence, cooperation with NATO.
Nevertheless Clear Sky, one of Ukraine’s biggest military exercises began on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at Starokostiantyniv and Vinnytsia Air bases concluding on 19 October, focusing on the air-to-ground scenarios with AI (air interdiction) and CAS (Close Air Support) missions, as well as air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyber defense and personnel recovery; it promoted regional stability and security, while strengthening partner capabilities, interoperability and fostering trust.
The Polish Air Force sent four modern F-16 fighter jets to take part in the this joint large-scale aviation exercise. According to the information provided to by Major Dariusz Kurowski of the Polish General Command of the Armed Forces, during the exercises, Polish fighter jets operated from base airfields and did not carry combat weapon.F-16 fighter jets from the Polish Air Force’s 2nd Tactical Air Wing are plays the role of opposing forces and simulated an enemy aircraft. Also, Polish fighter jets take part in joint missions with U.S. F-15C Eagles and carry out in-flight refueling missions with KC-135 Stratotankers.The main aim of the operation is to prepare the participants to plan reconnaissance sorties and quick deployment of the air assets. The 2nd Tactical Air Wing – based in Poznan-Krzesiny commands the 31st and 32nd Tactical Air Bases. The 2nd Tactical Air Wing is the only body in the Polish Air Force to operate the multirole Block 52+ F-16s and this was the first time when Polish modern fighter jets took part in exercises over Ukraine.
The 126 ARW, part of the Illinois Air National Guard, partecipated in the multinational training exercise providing with their KC-135 Stratotankers in-flight refueling mission with Polish and Romanian F-16s and U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles. Two KC-135 Stratotankers from the 126th Air Refueling Wing carries out in-flight refueling missions with fighter jets from partner countries and the US Air Force in the skies over Romania and Ukraine. In addition to air-to-air refueling of military aircraft, the unit provides trained, capable men and women who are ready to defend US nation and partners anywhere in the world; to protect state through civil defense and disaster relief; and to serve in the surrounding communities.
C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical airlifter, assigned to the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Station, Calif, took also part in the joint large-scale exercise. During Media Day of the joint military exercise, the C-130J-30 Super Hercules tactical airlifter flew to Starokostiantyniv Air Base from Vinnytsia Air base in Ukraine to pick up soldiers and tons of cargo. The C-130J-30 Super Hercules is a stretch version of the C-130J, a proven, highly reliable and affordable airlifter. The C-130J-30 adds 15 feet to the fuselage, increasing usable space (two more pallets of equipment) in the cargo compartment. The C-130J Super Hercules offers superior performance and modern capabilities, with the range and flexibility for every theater of operations and evolving requirements.
U.S. ANG Soldiers from the 146th Airlift Wing conducted integration aeromedical evacuation training with Ukrainian specialists. Pararescuemen from the California Air National Guard instructed Ukrainian Military on executing the proper procedures for climbing a rope ladder affixed to a climbing tower. The training simulated being secured to a hovering helicopter as part of Clear Sky 2018.
For the first time, the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft has performed demonstrate its flying skill along. The Reaper, a remotely piloted aircraft primarily designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection, can also perform close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike and other critical functions, making it an indispensable tool. The MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, is assigned to Miroslawiec Air Base, Poland., flew over Starokostiantyniv Air Base during Media Day.
It was for the first time that the U.S.Air Force showed in flight its MQ-9 unmanned drone from in Ukrainian sky. The MQ-9 drone flew, accompanied by a pair of fighters F-16 Polish Air Force, from the military base Miroslawiec Air Base in Poland.
The intense program of operations saw all the units training together in a lot of different kind of missions everyday. At the media day, in front of the public viewing area,a Sukhoi Su-27UB ((70 BLUE) ) of Ukrainian Air Force make made a crazy low-altitude pass: but pilots of Ukrainian Su-27UB regularly fly at low altitude and received the highest marks from at international aviation events.
Of course, contingencies are always lurking…
An F-15D Eagle made emergency landing, making a barrier landing at the Starokostiantyniv Air Base just during Media day of the exercise. After landing, the fighter jet was towed to aircraft parking space lot by members of the engineering team of the US Air Force.
A Ukrainian Su-27UB fighter jet crashed: the accident occurred at around 5:00 PM local time on Oct. 16, 2018, near the village of Ulaniv, which is situated approximately 185 miles southwest of the Ukranian capital Kyiv.
“This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine,” said Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, California ANG commander and Clear Sky exercise director. “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends and fellow Airmen of both the U.S. Airman and Ukrainian aviator who were killed in the incident.”
Text and photos: Alberto Mocchetti & Gianluca Storti