Over the last weeks, several units from multiple countries have been in place in Luleå, Örland, Bodö, Rovaniemi, Jokkmokk, Hakkas and Gällivare to participate in the Arctic Challenge Exercise (ACE). The Air Forces of Sweden, Finland and Norway hosted the exercise from 22 May to 4 June 2019. More than 100 aircraft from nine nations participated in the exercise carried out in the airspace over the northern areas of the host countries.
Nordic cooperation is the core of the execution of ACE. This year's Arctic Challenge Exercise (ACE 19) is the fourth of its kind that Sweden, Finland and Norway organise together. The exercise has been conducted every other year since 2013 and was this time led by the Swedish Air Force, meaning that Sweden is responsible for planning and direction of the training event. A few minutes after nine o'clock on the morning of 22 May, the first fighter aircraft took off from Lulea Kallax airport to start the first flight mission of the exercise.
"Many people have been working on the exercise for a long time now and we are underway at last, it feels very good. Now we are hoping for a good exercise with qualified elements that strengthen the operational capability and build security together with other nations", says exercise conductor, Colonel Claes lsoz.
During the exercise, the flights took off from four bases, Luleå Kallax in Sweden, Bodø and Ørland in Norway and Rovaniemi in Finland. Two flight missions were conducted each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning mission was flown within the borders of each host country. During the afternoon mission, the air forces in Norway and Finland crossed their borders and entered the unique training area for ACE 19 - an area stretching from Västerbotten in the south to a good few miles north of the Three-Country Cairn.
"The training area is as vast as it is unique, with proximity between the three main bases, and it gives us the opportunity to train together in an advanced and very cost-effective way", says exercise conductor Claes lsoz.
ACE is invaluable
Parts of the U.S. and British units have had advance forces at Luleå Kallax airport for just over a week before the exercise to set everything up before the fighter aircraft and personnel were in place. The U.S. F-16 planes from the South Carolina National Guard landed on 16 May, and the British Typhoon planes from Royal Air Force Lossiemouth, Scotland, landed on 20 May.
"We are really looking forward to the opportunity to train together with several of our allies in Europe. Partly to sharpen ourselves up, but also to develop the collaboration with other participating nations. During this type of exercise, we have the opportunity to share important experience as well as tactics and ideas which ultimately deal with our common security", says commanding officer No. 6 Squadron from Lossiemouth, Matthew D'Aubyn, and he continues:
"We think we are very far north when we are in northern Scotland. Now we have flown another two and a half hours northwards and all of a sudden we are almost the southernmost European participants. Up here in the north, you have a fantastic open air space with the opportunity to train over very large areas and it is something the entire squadron is looking forward to during ACE. And the fact that we are in place with Typhoons, despite being very busy on many different fronts, shows how highly we value this type of air training exercise with highly qualified opponents", says Matthew D'Aubyn.
Qualified opponents, both in the air and on the ground
During a single mission in ACE, the combat pilots coordinated their flight operations with more than 50 other planes from eight countries, while facing opponents with 30-40 aircraft in the air, and with about ten different types of aircraft. And after each flight mission, there was a thorough evaluation of each pilot's performance and actions. In addition to this, the pilots trained aerial refuelling, and were exposed to "disrupted" radar and radio environments, while at the same time they had to combat ground and sea targets.
In addition to the threat from the airborne opponents, there were also advanced threats on the ground in the form of Norwegian, German and U.S. air defence units grouped around northern Sweden. A Dutch unit was stationed at Luleå Kallax airport with Link 16 - a tactical data link that makes it possible to communicate encrypted information in real time in the form of images, voice communication, navigation data and more between different combat forces.
ACE 19 is over. Two weeks of intensive and evolving training, both in the air and on the ground is completed.