The 48th Fighter Wing received their first F15E “Strike Eagle” on February 15, 1992. By December 1992, all the wing’s F-111Fs departed for units within the United States, signifying yet another historic precedent for the Liberty Wing.
A trio of F-15E Strike Eagles from the 492nd Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, flies past Stonehenge. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)
No sooner had the F-15Es arrived at Lakenheath than the 48th received word that it would be receiving additional aircraft. But, unlike the wing’s previous 50 years of air-to-ground operational history, this time the mission would be air superiority. Beginning in November 1993, F-15Cs began touching down at RAF Lakenheath with the familiar gold and black tails of the 493rd Fighter Squadron which subsequently activated on January 1, 1994 to facilitate the new mission. Not only did this set a historical precedent in the 48th’s 50-plus year history, the 493rd’s new mission set further records when the 48th became the largest F-15E/F-15C composite unit in the U.S. Air Force.
No sooner had the 493rd Fighter Squadron’s state of the art F-15Cs touched down on Lakenheath when they were called to support the no-fly zones above Iraq and later Bosnia as part of Operations PROVIDE COMFORT and DELIBERATE GUARD, operations which the squadron continues to support.
During 1995, 492nd, 493rd and 494th FS aircrews and support people deployed 330 days to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and Aviano Air Base, Italy, to support Operations Provide Comfort and Deny Flight. They amassed 1,384 hours in 576 sorties at Aviano and 7,245 hours in 2,718 sorties at Incirlik with only one Class B mishap: an unavoidable bird strike.
For Operation Deliberate Force, the 48th FW, along with other coalition forces, was charged with four objectives: Ensuring the Bosnian Serbs stopped shelling Sarajevo and other safe areas; Forcing the withdrawal of Bosnian Serb heavy weapons from an exclusion zone around Sarajevo; Giving U.N. forces and other non-government officials complete freedom of movement; and allowing unrestricted use of the Sarajevo airport. The NATO operation began Aug. 30, 1996, two days after a horrifying mortar shell attack killed 37 people shopping in a jammed Sarajevo marketplace. After NATO commanders confirmed Bosnia Serbia was behind the shelling, the alliance unleashed a multinational team of fighters on that country’s air defense missile sites, radar sites and communication facilities. Participating in the precision air strikes was the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, England. After nearly one month of precision bombings, coalition forces met the objectives as shell-shocked Bosnian Serbs discovered any differences were best settled at the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield. That forced cease-fire came from accords hammered out at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in September 1995. But before the warring factions – specifically Bosnian Serbs – laid down their arms, it took a convincing one-month show of airpower called Operation Deliberate Force to jump-start the peace process.
Even though the Liberty Wing’s excellent record and string of historical precedents set it in the forefront of Air Force history, the wing made world history between October 1998-June 1999 when it was called to simultaneously support two separate air operations from three separate geographic locations. The wing deployed 12 F-15Cs to Cervia Air Base, Italy, in October 1998, while F-15Es deployed to Turkey in December and began dropping precision-guided munitions on Iraqi surface-to-air threats. Meanwhile, additional F-15Es deployed to Italy over Serbian intransigence regarding atrocities against Kosovar Albanians by Serbian military units. In the meantime, F-15Cs deployed to Turkey to fulfill the air superiority mission above Iraq followed by an additional 12 F-15Cs deployed to Italy for Operation ALLIED FORCE. In a truly astounding feat of military logistics, airmanship and maintenance by ground crews, the wing engaged hostile forces in both Iraq and Serbia from two locations in Italy and Turkey and later the United Kingdom. What made the feat even more astounding was that the wing flew over 1,000 combat missions without losing one aircraft or aircrew—another precedent in the wing’s long history.
In February-March 1999 the 48th Fighter Wing deployed more than 40 aircraft and 500 people to Aviano Air Base and Cervia Air Base in Italy in support of possible air combat operations over the former Republic of Yugoslavia. On 24 March 1999 NATO’s air campaign against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic begins. Liberty Wing F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Aviano AB, Italy, and 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagles at Cervia AB, Italy, begin conducting combat missions over the former Yugoslavia. The Liberty Wing members accomplished several firsts. The first time a wing conducted combat operations simultaneously from three locations (home, Aviano and Cervia). The first combat use ever of AGM-130 (first used by the wing in Operation Northern Watch and then multiple uses in Operation Allied Force), and first use of the GBU-28, 5,000 pound “bunker-buster” bomb (both munitions can only be employed by the F-15E). Also, the wing’s F-15C’s scored the first shootdown of the operation, for a total of four MiG kills. On 24 March 1999 Liberty Wing pilots assigned to the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed to Cervia AB, Italy, shot down two Serbian MiG-29 aircraft during the first day of NATO’s air campaign, Operation ALLIED FORCE. The ‘Grim Reapers’ (the nickname of the 493rd FS) shot down two more Serbian MiGs in air-to-air combat later in March, giving them the most air-to-air ‘kills’ of the NATO air campaign.
In April 1999 Liberty Wing F-15E Strike Eagles employ the first GBU-28 ‘Bunker Buster’ bomb used during Operation ALLIED FORCE, the combat air campaign over the former Yugoslavia. Liberty Wing aircrews were also the first to employ this formidable munition over Iraq during Operation DESERT STORM. During May and June 1999, for the first time since the El Dorado Canyon raids over Libya, combat operations are conducted directly from RAF Lakenheath. F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 492nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron strike targets in Yugoslavia and join other NATO air forces in conducting the air campaign against Serbia. This marked the second time in four months that the Liberty Wing found itself conducting combat operations simultaneously from three different locations: RAF Lakenheath, England; Aviano Air Base, Italy; and Cervia Air Base, Italy.
Amid a festive atmosphere on the flightline here of people cheering and waving miniature American flags, balloons swaying and patriotic music blaring, the Liberty Wing celebrated a homecoming in late June 1999. Family and friends joined co-workers, supervisors, first sergeants and other senior base leaders in welcoming home members of the 48th Fighter Wing who were deployed to Aviano and Cervia air bases in Italy, and to Turkey in support of Operation Allied Force. With the decision to start redeploying U.S. forces, about 500 people and 44 F-15 aircraft arrived June 24 to 27, and included about 60 members of the 48th Medical Group who were deployed to Turkey. Most of the wing’s deployed population returned home during the following two weeks, which made this the first time since November 1998 that almost everyone will be home.
In mid-1991 the Air Force converted its fighter wings to the objective wing organization. In 1992, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing reorganized to become the 48th Fighter Wing with a logistics group, operations group, medical group and support group. One of the biggest changes was the activation of the 48th Operations Support Squadron under the operations group in March 1992.
Assuming many diverse wing functions, the 48th OSS has six unique flights:
The Airfield operations Flight controls all aircraft that enter the Lakenheath and Mildenhall Military Air Traffic Zone. Radar Approach Control is responsible for all aircraft movement on and around RAF Lakenheath. They also provide radar service to many civilian aircraft that fly in East Anglia. RAPCON’s job is to make sure all these aircraft, military and civilian, are deconflicted from one another while flying in the local area. Control tower personnel monitor and control all aircraft movement on the base and all airborne aircraft in the visual traffic pattern. The base operations section conducts daily inspections and maintains the entire airfield infrastructure to ensure a safe flying operation. Airfield operations flight controlled the takeoffs and departures of 1,139 tanker and 119 fighter combat missions from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall during Operation Allied Force. During normal peacetime training operations, they control more than 68,000 takeoffs, departures and recoveries per year. With manning as low as 62 percent at times, airfield operations’ “can-do” attitude exemplifies the professionalism of the 48th OSS.
The Weather Flight is entirely focused on providing accurate weather products that allow Liberty Wing Warriors to deliver bombs on target and kill MiGs. As recently as 1999, the combat weather team was the winner of the Williams Award. This prestigious award goes to the most outstanding Air Force weather flight performing aerospace weather operations.
The Maintenance Management flight is like your mother who tells you to eat your vegetables and exercise more. They are responsible for the long-term health of wing aircraft and they administer the maintenance side of the wing flying hour program. This flight adapted new measures to streamline parts supply to “phase” inspections. This produced a completed phase every other day during Operation Allied Force – a remarkable record. Also, this flight is recognized in USAFE as the current expert in reliability and maintainability information system applications and reports. These accomplishments, along with many others, led the aircraft maintenance consulting action team to recognize the flight as “the best analysis flight within USAFE.”
The Intelligence Flight uses state-of-the-art technology to give commanders and combat crews the most up-to-date and accurate enemy order of battle. Tailoring their products to three fighter squadrons for any worldwide area of responsibility is no easy undertaking. The flight proved they were up to the task when they supported simultaneous operations by 48th FW aircraft and crews during Operations Allied Force and Northern Watch from four different locations. They provided timely and critical intelligence for combat operations flown from Aviano Air Base and Cervia Air Base, Italy, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, and RAF Lakenheath.
The Standardization Flight standardizes how Liberty Wing warriors prosecute the war. Through published employment standards and quarterly wing Top Gun competitions, weapons and tactics ensures that the tip of the 48th FW’s fighting sword is razor sharp. One of the most important programs the flight oversees is strike aircrew certification. After a grueling week of intensive study (with no flying), crews are grilled by a panel of experts to determine if they properly can execute this demanding mission.
The Current Operations flight is as diverse as the 48th OSS itself. Current ops is composed of flight records, wing life support, wing scheduling, wing training and aircrew training devices. These varied functions publish the daily flying schedule, monitor the status of aircrew training, document aircrew flight status and provide training and equipment to aircrew so they can survive the threat in any environment should they ever have to eject from their aircraft.
In addition to these six flights there are four organizations that are administratively attached to the squadron. These professionals report directly to the operations group commander on their functional area but are part of the 48th OSS family in all other areas. Standardization and evaluation publishes the flying standards all aircrew follow and ensures all flyers in the wing meet demanding criteria through a formal checkride every 18 months. Quality assurance performs the same function as standardization and evaluation but for all the maintainers in the wing. They also manage the functional check flight program in the wing that scrutinizes the work performed on an aircraft that has undergone major maintenance. Weapons standardization ensures that all weapons loaders in the wing meet a demanding level of performance. The advanced programs office is responsible for future hardware and software upgrades to wing F-15s.