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LakenHeath AFB Factsheets

1990s

Marking the end of the Cold War, in July 1990 a piece of the Berlin Wall was dedicated on base to remember the “slain peacekeepers of the world.” With this drastic change in global politics, rumors began to spread about the future of Lakenheath and other European bases. Politicians debated over what to do with the newly-found “peace dividend.”

However, the entire pace of the Air Force went from normal operations to hypersonic in the summer of 1990. On 2 August 1990, Iraq President Saddam Hussein directed his forces to invade Kuwait and thereby threatened an invasion of Saudi Arabia. Within days of the invasion, U.S. President George Bush directed the deployment of U.S. Armed Forces to Saudi Arabia in what became known as Operation DESERT SHIELD. In an address to the Pentagon on 15 August, President Bush referred to DESERT SHIELD as “…one of the most important deployments of allied military power since the Second World War.”

Also in the first week of August, Col. Thomas J. Lennon, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing Commander, received a call from Headquarters, United States Air Force, asking if the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing was ready to deploy. Colonel Lennon built a team of 13 members from wing leadership, known as the “Lucky 13,” and preparations began for the eventual movement of personnel and F-111s to Saudi Arabia.

On 25 August 25 1990, 18 F-111s took off from Lakenheath as the first USAFE unit to deploy. In this first group, nearly 500 men and women of the Liberty Wing tearfully said good-bye to their families, not knowing how long they would be gone, or what dangers would face them in a war with Iraq. Nonetheless, they departed with the assuredness of years of training behind them and a clearly defined mission in front of them.

In an August 31st editorial of the base’s newspaper, the Jet48, Col. Barry Ream, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing’s Vice Commander, spoke to the families of the deployed: “I wish I could give you lots of details about what your spouses are doing during the deployment, but I can’t. I can say, however, that they all arrived safely, morale is sky high, and the job will get done in typical Liberty Wing style.”

Colonel Ream’s words proved prophetic. By January 1991, the 48th deployed 66 of its 70 F-111s to Taif, Saudi Arabia along with more than 1,400 Team Lakenheath members. During Operation DESERT STORM, the war for the liberation of Kuwait, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, Provisional flew 2,500 combat sorties. Dropping 7.3 million pounds of precision guided munitions, the wing’s F-111 fleet destroyed 920 tanks and armored personnel carriers, 245 hardened aircraft shelters, 160 bridges, and 113 bunkers. In one of the last missions of the war, on 27 February 1991, the 48th recorded the first-ever employment of a GBU-28, successfully destroying an Iraqi command and control center. All of this the wing accomplished without one combat loss of a pilot or aircraft.

Incorporating the lessons learned during the desert operations, the Air Force directed changes that led to the Objective Wing organization. Beginning in mid-1991, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing began restructuring under this program, realigning its maintenance-fighter squadron work force and establishing several command positions to include the 48th Logistics Group, 48th Medical Group, 48th Support Group, and 48th Operations Group (originally designated the 48th Fighter Group). The program also redesignated many of the Air Force’s units by dropping the “Tactical” from their names. Thus on 1 October 1991, the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing was redesignated the 48th Fighter Wing, and the 492d, 493d, and 494th became simply Fighter Squadrons.

With this mission change, the 493d Fighter Squadron had inactivated on 1 January 1993, only to activate again on 1 January 1994. The squadron received its first maintenance trainer F-15C Eagle on 10 January 1994, then its full compliment of aircraft by 22 July 1994. This marked the first time that the 48th had an air-to-air weapon in its inventory, after flying for more than 50 years with an air-to-ground mission.

With its new weapon systems, the wing began a hectic pace of real world deployments that would keep at least one squadron constantly deployed from 1993 until 1999. On 5 August 1993, the 492d Fighter Squadron conducted the wing’s first F-15E deployment when it went to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, under Operation PROVIDE COMFORT (succeeded by NORTHERN WATCH). Thirteen days after the 492d’s arrival in Turkey, Iraq violated the exclusion zone by placing surface-to-air missiles outside of the city of Mosul. In spite of repeated warnings to remove the missiles, Iraqi forces failed to comply. On the afternoon of 18 August, Liberty Wing F-15Es struck the site, eliminating the missile threat.

For the remainder of the decade, the 492d and 494th continually rotated to Turkey and to Aviano Air Base, Italy for participation in Operations DENY FLIGHT and PROVIDE PROMISE, supporting operations in the Balkans. Providing combat air patrol with the F-15Cs, the 493d also rotated planes to Turkey and Italy. This series of deployments continued into the spring of 1999.

In February 1999, while the wing served another rotation in Turkey, acts of aggression by Serbia against the Albanian population of Kosovo resulted in NATO intervention, culminating in Operation ALLIED FORCE.[3] Strikes against Serbian targets began on 24 March 1999. Within 72 hours, the 493d Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, stationed out of Cervia Air Base, Italy recorded four aerial victories against the enemy. At the same time, the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, operating from Aviano Air Base, employed its precision guided munitions—including the first use of a GBU-28 Bunker Buster by an F-15E. Starting in May, the 492d Expeditionary Fighter Squadron launched combat operations directly from RAF Lakenheath, the first sustained combat operations flown from England since World War II.

During the air war over Serbia, the wing deployed 1,011 personnel to 18 different locations. Operationally, the wing’s pilots and aircraft flew sorties from three locations, utilizing 69 aircraft. Thus, even those remaining at RAF Lakenheath not only made up for the work of those deployed, but also launched combat sorties. Furthermore, they served as a supply point for their deployed counterparts, sending 3,871 tons of equipment to various locations. In all, the pilots of the 48th serving under expeditionary squadrons flew 2,562 sorties for more than 11,000 combat hours in less then three months, dropping 3.1 million tons of munitions and scoring four out of five confirmed Air Force aerial victories.

[3] The Overall NATO operation was designated ALLIED FORCE, while the US-specific part was called Operation NOBLE ANVIL