It appears the ‘Grim Reapers’ of the 493d Fighter Squadron will have a little more breathing room if the Senate passes the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which has just recently been passed in the House of Representatives. The bill includes the “European Reassurance Initiative” which proposes up to $1 billion in funding, part of which would be used to keep the Boeing F-15Cs in Europe to (hopefully) mitigate any immediate threat. Considering the recently disestablished 65th Aggressor Squadron had an annual budget approximating $35 million, it seems feasible that even a small portion of the European Reassurance funds could keep the 493d at full strength for a while yet.
Part of the legendary Liberty Wing (48th Fighter Wing), the 493d is based in the United Kingdom at RAF Lakenheath along with a pair of F-15E Strike Eagle squadrons, comprising United States Air Forces Europe’s one and only F-15 component. The Grim Reapers are consistently tasked with supporting POTUS movements to Europe and various NATO exercises and other taskings, including the Baltic Air Policing mission. Established in 2004, the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission has seen a rotating Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) force present in Lithuania as a defensive measure to protect the airspace of the host nation as well as Latvia and Estonia.
Early this year after tensions escalated over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, our allies in the region asked us for more support. So naturally the 493d stepped up to the plate and deployed six additional F-15s to Lithuania to the Baltic region in addition to the four jets already in Lithuania as part of the regularly scheduled QRA rotation. The other aircraft that have operated the QRA in the area are multi-role types such as the F-16 and Typhoon, and while the aircraft and their crew are certainly more than capable, they are not necessarily dedicated counter air specialists like the Grim Reapers with their F-15s.
The USAF had previously proposed a deep cut to its F-15C/D Eagle force in 2015, a reduction of 51 airframes – many of which to come from the 493d FS – and this bill should delay the cuts by at least a year. But what happens after a year, if Russia’s still at it? If Congress wants F-15C/Ds in Europe until Russia backs down, how long do we wait? As long as it takes? Given Russia’s moves, they don’t appear to be backing down anytime soon, and so it seems prudent to keep these assets in place. Those jets wouldn’t do a lot of good in the desert covered in Spraylat.
Now what would a Fighter Sweep post be without photos? Just for good measure, here are some Grim Reapers in action!