US Air Force flies 200th Mali air refuelling sortie


The US Air Force recently flew its 200th aerial refuelling sortie in support of French fighter aircraft operating over Mali.

The Air Force said the 351st Expeditionary Air Refuelling Squadron (EARS) completed its 200th aerial refuelling flight on May 5, 2013. This same unit reached 100 air-to-air refuelling flights on March 17.

The 351st Expeditionary Air Refuelling Squadron, compromised of airmen from the 100th Air Refuelling Wing and other US Air Force bases in Europe, has provided more than 8.6 million pounds of fuel to French close-air-support and fighter aircraft since January 27.
“We recognize our role as tankers will always be to support others,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Kuehne, 351st EARS commander. “Our combined operations with the French in Mali have given us a chance to prove our ability to contribute to anti-terrorism operations led by our partners around the world.”

The French deployed troops to Mali in January 2013 in response to unrest in Mali and an influx of terrorist cells in the northern portion of the country. The 351st EARS began providing in-flight refuelling support later in the month at the request of the French, and has since refuelled 1 012 French receiver aircraft.
“We are pleased with the support we are receiving,” said French air force Lieutenant Colonel Pascal Sotty, Joint Force Air Component Lyon deputy commander. “The US tanker support has been outstanding and we greatly appreciate the flexibility and dedication of the U.S. tanker force. They always meet the demands of our surges.”

The fuel passed by US KC-135R Stratotankers from RAF Mildenhall has directly impacted the French operations in Mali, allowing fighter aircraft to perform around the clock close-air support for French and coalition troops on the ground, the US Air Force said.
“We could surge our tanker force and support the current refuelling needs, but without US tanker support, we could not sustain the mission for very long,” said Sotty. “US tanker support allows us to continue to operate from bases outside of Mali.”

The 100th Aerial Refuelling Wing’s support of French operations in Mali recently highlighted their filling in on operations not led by the US military; these operations include Operation Unified Protector, the NATO operation spearheaded by British and French forces over Libya.
“It’s a change of pace for us compared to Iraq and Afghanistan,” Kuehne said. “The contribution of the 351st to the French efforts in Mali emphasizes the US role to assist in anti-terrorism around the world.”

The United States began providing airlift support to the French military and partner nations on January 21. By February 15, the US Air Force had flown 47 C-17 sorties moving French personnel, supplies and equipment. During the airlift support, US aircraft transported a total of 1 200 tons of equipment and supplies and 975 passengers.

The US has a detachment of unarmed Predator unmanned aerial vehicles deployed to Mali’s neighbour Niger, where they are used to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to French forces.