The U.S. Air Force announced on Thursday that its newest KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tanker refueled Finnish F/A-18 fighter jets for the first time in Finland airspace, Dec. 7, as part of a U.S. Air Forces in Europe partnership exercise called Copper Arrow.
Copper Arrow is a U.S. Air Force total force exercise, specific to U.S. tanker aircraft, which enhances readiness and operational relationships with NATO Allies and Partners, critical to maintaining a postured and ready U.S. force in the region. U.S.-based tankers have been supporting Copper Arrow on a rotational basis since 2016.
“This iteration of Copper Arrow will go a long way in increasing overall USAFE-AFAFRICA readiness,” said Gen. James Hecker, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander. “Our ability to seamlessly train and exercise with our NATO Allies and Partners is not only a testament to our ready and postured U.S. forces in Europe, but also a statement of our strong and cooperative relationships with those valued Allies and Partners.”
Copper Arrow is supported by the USAF’s newest tanker aircraft, the KC-46A Pegasus, from the 916th Air Refueling Wing, 77th Air Refueling Squadron, based out of Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The KC-46 has a narrow list of allowed international military aircraft it can refuel, with Finland on that list demonstrating the strength of U.S. interoperability with an accessioning NATO Ally.
The KC-46A provides lethality and additional options to the U.S. joint force with its ability to extend reach and increase battlespace awareness, as well as being equipped with defensive and communication features that makes it more survivable in a contested environment.
The Finnish Air Force trains regularly with Sweden and NATO in the Baltic Sea region. On 7 December, Finnish F/A-18s refueled for the first time from a KC-46A Pegasus, the newest tanker in the United States Air Force air-to-air refueling fleet. 🇫🇮🇺🇸 #ilmavoimat #StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/lnRkIi8qyT
— Ilmavoimat (@FinnishAirForce) December 8, 2022
Copper Arrow also simultaneously supported a large-scale, multinational vigilance NATO activity, which integrated high-end air Allied and Partner strike capabilities in an exercise area over the Baltic States.
This vigilance activity, which the KC-46A supported, exercised NATO’s ability to project credible combat air power while integrating with important regional Partners. The NATO activity involved approximately 20 aircraft, including fighters and tankers. NATO Allies who supported this activity included Poland, France, the U.K. and the USA; as well as Partner nations, Finland and Sweden, who flew from home base locations, making use of air-to-air refueling, essential for mission success.
“The purpose of today’s activity is to train air crews in aerial refueling while also demonstrating Finland’s readiness to operate with US and NATO forces,” said Brigadier General Timo Herranen, Chief of Staff, Finnish Air Force. “The ability to cooperate strengthens Finnish defense in the High North and the Baltic Sea region,” he added.
The U.S. Copper Arrow exercise and the NATO vigilance activity strengthened relationships with nations operating from across Northern Europe. Constant training activities like these, performed regularly across the Euro-Atlantic area, improve the overall cohesion of the NATO Alliance and ensure NATO can cooperate closely with important Partners. For the U.S., this Copper Arrow exercise went a long way in increasing overall USAFE readiness, simultaneously solidifying operational relationships and enhancing interoperability with Finland and NATO Allies.