Exercise Report : CLEAR SKY 2018 – Starokostiantyniv, Ukraine
Exercise CLEAR SKY 2018 – Starokostiantyniv, Ukraine
Ukrainian Air Force training with U.S. F-15s and NATO F-16s
In October 2018, exercise Clear Sky 2018 in collaboration with the California Air National Guard took place in Ukraine. Simone Marcato attended the media day at Starokostiantyniv air base, additional photos by Marco Papa.
“Clear Sky 2018 is our largest exercise in the last four years. It involves more than fifty aircraft from eight NATO member-states and our planes — of the Ukraine Air Force. The purpose of the exercises is to increase the level of interoperability of our combat aircraft with the air forces of the United States and other member states of the alliance”.
With these words the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko explained the significance and importance of this multinational military exercise, during his visit to the Joint Operational Center of the Clear Sky 2018.
President Poroshenko remarked: “Five years ago, our planes rusted on the ground and military pilots forgot about the sky. But today, each of you has an opportunity to see the professional skills of our pilots – soldiers, who carry out difficult tasks on an equal footing with their foreign counterparts. Here our attack planes, our fighters, our bombers are in full coordination with a joint control center; they are carrying out combat missions together with American F-15s and NATO F-16s and have received the highest marks from our partners. We are proud of these Ukrainian warriors”.
The exercise was hosted in the western part of Ukraine, in Khmelnytskyi and Vinnytsia Oblast, taking place for almost the entire month of October and involving more than 700 military personnel. The main base was Starokostiantyniv air base, and for the transports, Vinnitsya air base, both to the south-west of Kiev. During Clear Sky 2018, 120 sorties using tactical aircraft, 49 helicopter sorties and 20 cargo aircraft sorties were carried out. Also, the tactical firing range located near Lutsk air base in the east of the country was used.
The Media day was held on 12nd October at Starokostiantyniv air base. After the solemn opening ceremony, the Commander of the resident 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade, Colonel Evgen Bulatsyk, gave a short briefing about the Clear Sky 2018, explaining the training purposes and the various phases of the exercise: “This exercise aims to enhance regional capabilities to secure air sovereignty and promote peace and security. The Clear Sky 18 training is intended to increase the level of interoperability cooperation and collaboration during joint operations between the Ukrainian Air Force and the United States Air Force's units, as well as with NATO partners and other allies in the region. We improve practical skills of aircrews and the level of training of the command and control personnel”.
He added: “During Clear Sky 2018, we’ll conduct a wide range of missions that are normally carried out in modern warfare against ground and air-based threats in both permissive/not permissive environments, developing effective joint management of airborne operations, and cyber defense, focusing on the needs of air force”.
Air superiority, DACT, CAP, air interdiction and air refueling were the training missions for tactical aviation units, while the ones for transport aviation and support units were air mobility (also with paratroopers and cargo airdrop operations), medevac, cyber defense, and personnel recovery operations.
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions also played a paramount role in the exercise. The U.S. and Ukrainian units — respectively with the MQ-9 Reaper and PD-1 UAS — were tasked in air surveillance and JTAC support missions, demonstrating real time combined intelligence and surveillance capacity sharing, and carrying out joint UAV operator training.
- The exercise was divided in three separate phases:
- In the Deployment Phase, with duration of 6 days (October 1-6), all personnel, materiel, and air assets reached Starokostiantyniv and Vinnitsya air bases.
- The Active Phase, with duration of 12 days (8-19 October), consisted of the joint preliminary preparation, exercise practical tasks, and carrying out the training missions.
- The Re-deployment Phase, with duration of 4 days (October 20-23) prepared the return of all the deployed Ukrainian units to their respective home bases.
Ukrainian Air Force
Obviously, the Ukrainian Air Force was the main player in the exercise with about 30 fighter and attack aircraft, transports, UAS and helicopters, supported by a contingent of 350 military personnel. For the entire duration of the Clear Sky 2018, five tactical aviation units — all the different fast jet types currently in service with Ukrainian Air Force — were deployed at Starokostiantyniv air base, which was the main base for air combat training during Clear Sky 2018.
- 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade (7 BrTA), based at Starokostiantyniv AB, with overhauled Sukhoi Su-24M ‘Fencer’ tactical bombers and Su-24MR tactical reconnaissance aircraft
- 114th Tactical Aviation Brigade (114 BrTA), from Ivano-Frankivs'k AB, and equipped with ‘MU1’-modernized and overhauled MiG-29 and MiG-29UB ‘Fulcrums’
- 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade (40 BrTA) from Vasyl'kiv AB, equipped with ‘MU1’-modernized and overhauled MiG-29 and MiG-29UB ‘Fulcrums’
- 831st Guards Tactical Aviation Brigade (831 BrTA), from Myrhorod AB, with updated single-seat Su-27P1M/S1M and two-seat Su-27UB1M ‘Flankers’
- 299th Tactical Aviation Brigade (299 BrTA), from Mykolaiv/Kul’bakino AB, with upgraded Su-25M1 and Su-25UBM1 ’Frogfoots’
Along with these tactical units, also the 456th Guards Transport Aviation Brigade (456 BrTrA) with its An-26 transport aircraft was involved in the exercise, operating from its home base at Vinnytsia/Gavryshivka, located 120 km south-east of Starokostiantyniv.
California Air National Guard
The United States was the main partner of the Ukrainians for the exercise. 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of the collaboration between the California Air National Guard and the Ukrainian Air Force as part of U.S. European Command's State Partnership Program, and so the exercise was born from that partnership. Therefore, Clear Sky 2018 included a robust participation by the California ANG units. In particular, six F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft belonging the 194th Fighter Squadron of the 144th Fighter Wing, deployed from Fresno ANG Base to Starokostiantyniv. One of the F-15Cs (84-0004) involved features a specially painted heritage scheme that celebrated the 75th anniversary of the 194th Fighter Squadron ’Griffins’, formed in October 1943. In addition to the American F-15s at Starokostiantyniv, a single C-130J Super Hercules from the 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands ANG Station, was deployed at Vinnytsia AB.
Major General Clay Garrison, the commander of the California ANG, stated: “We are in Starokostiantyniv, in Western Ukraine. This is a historic day, because for the first time we landed with the F-15s in Ukraine. We developed our collaboration for long time and this joint meeting was preceded by a great deal of work. Finally, we met. Finally, our F-15Cs landed on the runway. This is an example that certifies the cooperation of the air component of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the United States Air Forces. It is an opportunity for friendship and further cooperation that can benefit all. This is a historic day! And we do not do it for the last time. We will repeat it!”
Other aircraft involved in the exercises, were KC-135 tanker aircraft of the 126th Air Refueling Wing, Illinois ANG, and the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, operated from Powidz AB, Poland, and the MQ-9 UAVs operating out of Miroslawiec AB, Poland. The Pennsylvania ANG contributed Joint Terminal Attack Controller instructors, and several additional delegations from units in California, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Alaska, Washington and from US bases in Europe also took part at Clear Sky 2018.
In addition to the U.S. presence, representatives of the armed forces of Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Poland and Romania took part in the exercises. Only the last two countries, Poland and Romania, participated with air assets (both with F-16s). Operating from their respectively air bases: Krzesiny AB in Poland and Fetesti AB in Romania, the F-16s flew for the first time together with their Ukrainian counterparts.
After the media briefing, a small dynamic display started with the take-off of 3 F-15C Eagles and the single F-15D, followed by Ukrainian Air Force fighters: one Su-24M, one Su-25M1, one Su-27P1M and one Su-27UB1M, and one MiG-29MU1. All the Ukrainian fighters were overhauled examples, upgraded with the latest domestic updates and wearing the new ‘digital’ pixel camouflage. After the fighters had taken off, the air assets of the exercise were presented to the high ranks Authorities and the Media representatives with a fly-over of the air base by the different formations: Three F-15s followed by a small formation with MiG-29MU1 and Su-25M1, then two Flankers with a Su-24M, and flying in from their bases; two An-26s, the C-130J-30, KC-135, and two Polish F-16Cs. Along with the dynamic display, the guests had the opportunity to see a CSAR demonstration with a single Mi-8 ‘Hip’ and take a look at the static display, which included a Su-27P1M, Su-24M, Su-25M1, MiG-29MU1, and an L-39M1, each one presented with the various types of ordnance available to the Ukraine Air Force.
During the exercise
The sole F-15D came from the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, UK, givng the Californian contingent a two-seat Eagle to provide backseat rides to their hosts. The Ukraine Air Force's two-seat aircraft were often used for familiarization sorties and exchange backseat rides during exercise.
Sadly, in the late afternoon on October 16, while carrying out one of these single-aircraft familiarization flights, a Su-27UB1M (‘70 Blue’) crashed resulting in the death of the two pilots, Colonel Ivan Nikolayevich Petrenko, deputy commander of Eastern Air Command/Ukrainian Air Force, and Lt. Colonel Seth ‘Jethro’ Nehring of the California ANG/144th Fighter Wing.
This joint exercise with NATO was politically significant and key to the alliance's anti-Russia policy, in light of the concerns about Moscow’s intentions regarding the Ukraine. The tension between the Ukraine and Russia continue to be high, particularly since Russia's annexation of Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and the outbreak of hostilities in the Donbass region. This conflict has already killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014 and remains unresolved. The attendance of the Ukrainian President at Clear Sky 2018 is indicative of the political importance of this exercise. Meanwhile, it also showed how much effort and priority has been given over the past few years to restore the Ukrainian Air Force's capabilities and improve its operational efficiency.
Last Modified: 12 January 2019