U.S. Marines Fuel Partnership with Spanish Forces Thousands of Feet in the Air

U.S. Marines Fuel Partnership with Spanish Forces Thousands of Feet in the Air

Two Spanish Navy Harriers fly behind a U.S. Marine KC-130J from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa during an aerial refueling off the coast of Spain May 15, 2015. The Harriers completed a series of linkups with the KC-130J's refueling lines to hone the two groups' ability to support each other during bilateral operations. Phjoto by Sgt Paul Peterson.

MORON AIR BASE, Spain (May 21, 2015) – U.S. Marine and Spanish Navy pilots tested their ability to support each other during aerial-refueling operations off the coast of Spain May 15.

Two Marine KC-130J Hercules from Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa flew from Morón Air Base, Spain, and joined with Spanish Navy Harrier pilots from the 9th Aircraft Squadron. The two groups linked up just off the coast, where they began the precise aerial dance necessary to align their aircraft for refueling operations.

The technique is an essential capability for NATO aircraft, said U.S. Marine Capt Edward Fagan, a pilot who took part in the training.

"We can extend the range of [our partners] and also their time on station when they're supporting ground units," said Fagan. "We try and work with the Spanish every week or so, and we try and do this as often as we can so we can maintain that relationship with our host nation. It makes it easier for us to plan with them and coordinate exercises or real world operations."

The process is further aided by the fact that all pilots are trained to communicate with each other in English, guaranteeing they can work with each other no matter where they come from or where they serve.

"Everything is very seamless when transitioning from U.S. aircraft to foreign nations' aircraft within NATO," said Fagan. "The procedures are exactly the same when refueling with a NATO nation … because we do all our procedures based on the same publication."

The two groups circled over the water in smooth, wide arches. The smaller Spanish Harriers flew in sync with the U.S. aircraft, sliding in to connect with the refueling lines each time the KC-130Js straightened out.

"As a pilot, we're trying to maintain a very stable platform so the hose isn't moving around on them because it's already difficult enough," said Fagan.

"We have two Marines in the observation windows in the back of the plane looking out each side. They let the crew master up front know when [the other planes] are approaching the hose, in contact, or disconnecting," said Fagan. "Everything feeds in together, and we're all talking together on the radios and in between planes."

The groups will continue to train together in the future as SPMAGTF-CR-AF continues to hone its mission set as a crisis-response force for U.S. Africa Command.