PHOTOS: USAF’s KC-10 Refuel Planes Over Polish Airspace in Multinational Exercise Astral Knight

A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender refueled multiple Polish and U.S. aircraft while flying over Polish airspace on Sept. 22 and 24, as part of the joint multinational exercise Astral Knight.

Astral Knight demonstrated the capabilities of land, air, and sea interoperability between multinational forces.

This exercise also tested the Patriot missile system provided by the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. The Patriot is a highly mobile surface-to-air missile system providing a coordinated, secure, integrated, mobile air defense system to USAFE.

“There are a number of countries that are all working together in order to make sure we understand how to command and control, which is to tell the aircraft where to go and how to orchestrate a battle,” said Col. David Epperson, 52nd Fighter Wing Commander.

Although the global pandemic has presented some complications, the mission of the U.S. Air Force doesn’t stop. Astral Knight is an integrated air and missile defense exercise focused on conducting defense of key terrain. Their training involved a combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios.

“We are participating in Astral Knight to extend our forces and partner forces throughout the exercise. It demonstrates how quickly and effectively we can respond and show that we are ready to support our allies anywhere in the world,” said Capt. Hannah Riddle, 305th Air Mobility Squadron KC-10 Pilot.

The aircraft used a KC-10 to refuel numerous times after they performed sorties over Polish airspace. The KC-10 is capable of delivering more than 200,000 pounds of fuel to other aircraft. During this exercise it included U.S. and Polish fighters over the duration of this exercise.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa have a strong relationship with the 10th Air and Missile Defense Command. Exercises like Astral Knight allows the Air Force to assess and improve the tactics and procedures in an environment that is realistic.

When the U.S. participates in these multinational exercises, it enhances the professional relationships. It also improves the overall coordination and interoperability with allied and partner militaries.

During the Astral Knight exercise, operating areas included the airspace in central and northeast Poland. As well as locations in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

“Communication with Polish forces and airspace controllers has been a good experience for us. It’s important to practice with our partners to build our relationships and improve coordination,” said Riddle.

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons during an airborne refueling exercise over Poland, Sept. 24, 2020. The KC-135 refueled F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base numerous times during sorties as part of joint multinational exercise Astral Knight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alison Stewart)

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