Exercise Vanguard (RAF Lakenheath) Feature Report
Monday 11th April - Friday 29th April
Formerly based in large numbers in England, the USAF withdrew the A-10 from this country during the early 90s, and with it went their bases. Since then, only one Squadron has been present in Europe, residing at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. When it became clear that A-10s would be deploying to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk for 'Exercise Vanguard', for those who remember them tearing up British skies, it was a chance to reminisce. For those who don't remember that far back, this was the perfect opportunity to catch a rare glimpse of an elusive aircraft!
spent a sunny day in Suffolk 'Hog Hunting'. Additional photography from , and .
Thursday, April 7th saw no fewer than 13 A-10A Thunderbolt II aircraft arrive at RAF Lakenheath for a three week stay, in which they were to "focus on some of their core skills". With the first sorties flown on the following Monday, the rest of that week was set aside for familiarization flights, whilst weeks two and three saw the Hogs and Eagles get stuck in as the exercise proper got underway.
Having recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Exercise Vanguard offered A-10 crews from the 81st Fighter Squadron a chance to get back into the swing of things, and it was also a valuable opportunity for British ground forces, who will soon deploy to the region, to train with the aircraft and crews they will be working alongside.
In addition to the A-10s and British forces on the exercise, there were also a pair of HH-60G Pave Hawk Helicopters from the 56th Rescue Squadron, based at Naval Air Station Keflavík, Iceland deployed to RAF Mildenhall. For the Pave Hawk crews, this was again an ideal opportunity to carry out training sorties with other NATO forces - something that is unavailable to them back in Iceland.
In a combat environment, ground attack aircraft would clear the route to a downed pilot for the rescue helicopters, before aircraft on a Combat Air Patrol secure the area whilst the rescue takes place, and this exercise offered the opportunity to simulate these scenarios.
Aside from the chance to train together for real world scenarios, the exercise also allowed the A-10 crews to fire live weapons at the various UK bombing ranges - which is again a benefit not on hand to them back in Germany. Numerous ranges were hit over their three-week stay, with an arsenal of air to ground weaponry unleashed, including the brutal GAU-8/A Gatling gun!
Also noted during the first week of the exercise was an appearance from a B-2A Spirit, which made two weapon drops over the Holbeach bombing range whilst on a global power training sortie, which saw it fly a 20 hour round trip from Whiteman AFB in Missouri.
The 509th BW Spirit (callsign FURY11, thought to be Spirit of Alaska), made three passes (one dry, two hot) at 5,000ft over Target 8 (an old ship hulk). Working with Forward Air Controller FORTUNE16, the Spirit was passed target information and made it's first hot run with a 2,000lb inert training bomb. The result was a slightly-more-than-1,000ft miss. Unhappy with the result and not being able to put the bomb back in the jet, the crew requested a second run and were again passed target information, shortly after which the crew thought that they had bottomed the problem that put their weapon 1,034ft off target. The second run, with another 2,000lb bomb, resulted in a miss of 1,059ft.
The reason for this is that a direct hit from a 2,000lb bomb on the ship hulk target would result in a somewhat dangerous fragmentation area, so FURY11 was told to offset their aiming point, by 300ft. It is the offset that caused the problem as, rather than the 300ft required, the offset entered was 300m (i.e. ~1000ft).
Leaving the range at about 1840L, FURY11 headed North to meet two 100th ARW KC-135Rs and, eventually, home.
It is hoped that A-10s will return later this year for another exercise - let's hope so!