US continues with Mali support flights


The United States Air Force is continuing to support French military operations in Mali by refuelling French aircraft and recently conducted the 100th air-to-air refuelling flight.

US airmen flying KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, completed the 100th refuelling mission March 17.

The Airmen and aircraft deployed from RAF Mildenhall to southwest Europe on January 26 and began flying as the 351st Expeditionary Air Refuelling Squadron January 27, US Africa Command (Africom) said.

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 refuelling.
“Without U.S. Air Force refuelling 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.

The 100th mission was flown with the 351st EARS reporting a 99-percent mission effective rate.

The US Air Force was previously providing an airlift capability to support French forces but as French military action winds down, there are currently no airlift missions.

The United States began providing airlift support to the French military and partner nations on January 21. As of 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.
“US Forces will continue to work closely with and support France and other partner nations to resolve the security situation in Mali, and will assess further requirements for airlift as support is requested,” Africom said.

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.