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421st Fighter Squadron Inaugural deployment to Europe 2019
 
Latest update: July 2019
 
Theater Security Package 
 
The commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe & Africa can request additional squadrons to be deployed to augment his training and/or security needs. From 2015 a Theater Security Package (TSP) is send to Europe under the umbrella of Operation Atlantic Resolve (OAR).  OAR is funded by the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) which came into effect after a visit by President Barack Obama to Poland in June 2014. A normal TSP deployment last six months and from the start until 2018 these consisted of a mix of two Air National Guard F-15C Eagle squadrons. Designated Expeditionary Fighter Squadron (EFS) and adopting the squadron number of the lead squadron 12 aircraft arrived in Europe for their TSP assignment. In this period the aircraft arrived at Leeuwarden Air Base to participate in the Royal Netherlands Air Force fighter exercise Frisian Flag. After the two week exercise period (March / April) the fighters and support personnel and equipment moved to Bulgaria or Romania. In 2019 the ANG send one of its F-16C Fighting Falcon squadrons directly to Romania. Based on requirements more squadrons can be deployed and this resulted in short deployments by F-22A Raptor squadrons and the first deployment of the F-35A Lightning II. The 388th Fighter Wing and its classic associate Air Force Reserve Command 419th Fighter Wing send eight of their aircraft to RAF Lakenheath from April 15 until May 7, 2017. During their stay aircraft visited other countries and conducted training from the base with other nations.

Classic associate wing: since 2007 the collocated Air Force Reserve Command 419th FW began flying together with the 388th FW in a Total Force Integration initiative capitalizing the strengths of both active duty and reserve forces.  As a result the wing and its sole squadron 466th FS “Diamondbacks” lost its own aircraft. From September 2017 the wing and its personnel started operating the F-35A.
 
388th Fighter Wing, 421st Fighter Squadron “Black Widows” 
 
The 388th Fighter Wing Hill AFB, Utah became the first operational wing within the USAF Air Combat Command to operate the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II.  It’s first of 78 assigned aircraft landed at the base in October 2015. Assigned to 388th FW are three squadrons: 4th FS “Fightin' Fuujins”, 34th FS “Rams” and 421th FS “Black Widows”. Lightning’s are delivered in squadron order. 421st FS received its first aircraft on December 12, 2018. By mid June 2019 the squadron received half of its 24 assigned aircraft and should be on full strength by the end of December 2019. The lineage of the squadron dates back to April 30, 1943. It stood up as the 421st Night Fighter Squadron. From February 20, 1947 until April 12, 1962 the “Black Widows” were deactivated. On November 1, 1991 they received their current designation. In 2018 the squadron ceased flying the F-16C and started it transition to the F-35A. Currently 421st FS is commanded by Lt. Col. Richard Orzechowski who accepted command in May 2018. The colonel transitioned to the Lightning II at the 61st FS, 56th FW at Luke AFB, Arizona from May until September 2016. Prior to his current assignment he served as the Chief of Wing Safety (October 2016 – June 2017) and F-35A Flight Examiner and Director of Operations of 34th FS (June 2017 – May 2018). 
 
 
421st EFS and 488th MG commanding officers. 421st FS commander aircraft.

 
Black Widows in Europe 
 
Although not on its full strength the 421st FS received its notification to deploy to Europe somewhere during the first months of 2019. They then started to prepare for its journey to Europe supported by the  388th Maintenance Group. In order to deploy 12 fighters they borrowed aircraft from their colleagues of 4th FS. The 388th MG is commanded by Colonel Michael T. Miles. His team is responsible for preparing all items for shipment for equipment and spare parts to the deployed locations. Also the personnel belongings of deployed airmen are transported by the group. The 421st EFS arrived at Aviano Air Base, Italy on May 23. The base hosted exercise Astral Knight 2019 which saw USAF F-16s, KC-10A, KC-135R and E-3 AWACS operating from Aviano and bases in Germany. The other participants (Croatian Air Force Mig-21’s and  Italian Air Force F-35A’s, EF-2000’s) operated from their home bases. Furthermore the USN provided an Arleigh Burke class destroyer and the USAR a Patriot surface-to-air missile system. During the exercise the squadron flew  integrated Air and Missile defensive mission also known as  Defensive counter air (DCA), protecting the coastline from both cruise missiles attacks as well as aircraft. Furthermore mission planning and execution was trained. Whereas the F-35A uses its data link to communicate with other (F-35) aircraft with the older generation aircraft radio communication was important to execute the mission plan in the most effective way as possible.
After completing “Astral Kningt” the squadron relocated to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. Here the resident 52nd FW hosted the 421st for the duration of their deployment In Europe. From here the squadron trained together with air forces. Occasionally aircraft were send to other locations. In Finland Turku air show was visited. The Finnish Air Force has a requirement to replace its current F/A-18C/D Hornet with the F-35A being a candidate. The aircraft continued to Norway were a mission was flown with the Norwegian Air Force F-35A’s. One aircraft was send to the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget and two aircraft visited the tactical Leadership Programme at Albacete AB, Spain.
Another four aircraft of the 388th FW arrived at Spangdahlem. 34th FS was assigned to fly its F-35A’s from Payerne for the Swiss project AIR 2030. The Swiss government runs the project to select a new fighter for its Air Force. The Lightning II competes with the Eurofighter (EF-2000 / Typhoon), F/A-18F Super Hornet and Rafale for the contract. 421st FS took care of aircraft maintenance while the jets were waiting for their tanker support to return to the USA.

During its deployment the squadron relies on the supply chain. It arrived in Europe working with the deployable spare package. This means that some parts will reach their life limit or will encounter some sort of malfunction. That will set the supply chain and its communication process in motion. It plays an important part in the ongoing development of the F-35 as it identifies the supply chain itself as well as its communication structure. The F-35 Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin and USAF supply system work together to prioritize and actually transfer these parts. It’s a learning process which is benefits future operations. Another important item is sharing the lesson learned with other F-35 operators. The Lightning’s is now coming online with several air arms and the squadron tries to share the lessons learned and best practices with as many other operators as possible.
 
Hill AFB, Utah 
 
Currently Hill AFB is undergoing maintenance. All its three squadrons are deployed. 4th FS is deployed to U.S. Air Force Central Command theatre of operations at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. with the 34th FS conducts its operations from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and the 421st EFS in Europe. Both 34th FS and 421st EFS will return to Hill AFB from sometime in late July or early August. Their colleagues of the 4th EFS will return to Hill AFB at the end of their deployment rotation.

Until its return to the USA the 421st EFS will continue to operate from Spangdahlem AB and looked forward to the training opportunity. “We worked to share the F-35 with as many people as possible and it’s a really great way to educate people and share our wonderful squadron” Lt. Col Orzechowski said during the media day


I would like to thank Col. Miles and Lt. Col. Orzechowski as well as the 52nd FW PAO staff for their hospitability and time.
 
Photo gallery
 
     
The squadron borrowed aircraft including one from the 56th FW coded "LF". One of the 12 F-35A's of 421st EFS
taxies out for departure.  
A Lightning II takes of from runway 23.

     
     
Except fighter operations with its F-16's the 52nd FW supports AMC flights. A F-35 taxies with a C-17A in the background.  Another Lightning II departs Spangdahlem to fulfill one of the squadrons duties while deployed in Europe. Checks completed and ready to go the third two-ship on its way to departure.


     
     
The last two ship received clearance to


backtrack runway 23 before departure.


The Lightning II carries its ordnance inside its weapons bay but can be fitted with external loads.