RAF Mildenhall-based USAF refuelling wing supports multinational exercise over Scandinavia

  • Watch a special report from ITV News Anglia's Andy Ward on board a KC-135 Stratotanker

American military personnel based in the UK have been taking part in a large-scale multinational training exercise over Northern Europe.

Now back for its sixth edition, the Arctic Challenge Exercise is held every two years and was first staged in 2013.

The drills have been running since 29 May and will end on 9 June, and the purpose is to allow NATO nations to share skills and strategies.

On this occasion, around 2,700 coalition personnel and 150 aircraft from 13 allied nations are involved - including the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium.

This year's edition has been hosted by Finland, Norway, and Sweden, with the training taking place in the skies above the Nordic countries.

The KC-135 Stratotanker before take-off from RAF Mildenhall. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Making sure that the fighters jets have their tanks topped up are personnel from the 100th Air Refuelling Wing, based at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

The unit is the sole US Air Force refuelling wing in Europe and has been based at Mildenhall since 1992.

ITV News Anglia reporter Andy Ward and camera operator Lucy Benneworth were on board one of the unit's KC-135 Stratotankers for a flight to Scandinavia, along with other members of the media.

The mission departed RAF Mildenhall at 10am and landed back just before 5pm.

The view from inside the tanker. Credit: ITV News Anglia

The task was to refuel four Belgian Air Force F-16s, as well as eight F-35s, which were all taking part in the exercise.

In charge of safely transferring the aviation fuel to the jets was boom operator Daniel Crump who is responsible for navigating the extendable metal arm attached to the underside of the tanker.

"I did feel the pressure at first, especially when I was a new boom operator, but now not so much," he told ITV News Anglia.

"I love opening up the window and watching them fly up. I still get that rush when they fly in and I'm able to refuel."

Captain Pablo Frias. Credit: ITV News Anglia

This year's exercise has taken on some added significance as the Russian war in Ukraine rages on.

The drills not only ensure that allied nations have a plan in place should conflict break out over Nordic airspace, but also act as a visible deterrent.

"The countries that I am able to support on a day-to-day basis is fantastic," said Captain Pablo Frias, who was in the cockpit for the first half of the flight.

"Being out here in Europe is great because we're able to partner with not only the British, but also some of our allied partner nations - the Italians, the Belgians, the Netherlands and many, many more. It's fantastic to have the opportunity to be able to help out our partner nations."

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