Airmen flying KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, completed the 100th refueling mission March 17, 2013, supporting French fighter aircraft conducting operations in Mali.
The Airmen and aircraft deployed from RAF Mildenhall to southwest Europe on Jan. 26, 2013 and began flying as the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron Jan. 27, 2013.
In less than two months, the 351st EARS has completed 100 sorties supporting the French. The sorties include more than 1,000 receiver contacts and more than 4.5 million pounds of fuel transferred.
The fuel directly enables French air force fighter aircraft to support ground forces, said French air force Commandant Lionel Vantard, Joint Force Air Component Lyon-Mt. Verdun Master Air Operations Plan planner. The fighters are based at airfields far from ground operations for security reasons, and the aircraft would not have enough fuel to transit between bases and the operations area without air refueling.
"Without U.S. Air Force refueling support, the French air force would lose about 50 percent of their daily fighter sorties," said Vantard.
French air force Lieutenant-Colonel Thierry Chapeaux, French Standing JFAC Chief of Staff, emphasized the importance of fighters having tankers available.
"Without tanker support from any nation, no fighters could perform their mission because their airfields are too far from the Joint Operations Area," said airborne has been amazingly clever to expedite rendezvous times and keep the fighters as clChapeaux. "The flexibility of the 351st EARS tankers and the fuel they provide is greatly appreciated by the French fighter pilots every day.
"Also, the ingenuity of the U.S. Air Force tanker crews while ose as possible to their taskings," continued Chapeaux. "These efforts have optimized each French mission."
The U.S. Air Force representative who coordinates between the French and the 351st EARS, Maj. Colin Henderson, Air Refueling Liaison to French Standing JFAC LMV, said he is impressed with the efforts of the 351st EARS.
"As the liaison between French and U.S. air refueling planning, the 351st EARS has repeatedly impressed me by surging to maximize the number of missions they fly each day," said Henderson. "This flexibility has ensured French fighter aircraft receive the fuel they need to provide airpower in support of dynamic operational objectives on the ground."
In addition to accomplishing the mission, Vantard and Henderson said working together toward an accomplishment like 100 missions can only build on a strong relationship. Both men agree the mixing of cultures among the planners in the French Standing JFAC LMV has helped to foster a better understanding of how the French air force and U.S. Air Force each operate and plan an air campaign. The friendships and networking that have developed between the planners will help enhance French and U.S. military coordination for future operations.
The 100th mission was flown with the 351st EARS reporting a 99-percent mission effective rate; a marker not easily achieved in a deployed environment.