US airborne exercise next week sees Järva County village become drop zone

US Airborne troops on a jump.
US Airborne troops on a jump. Source: ERR

A US-led airborne exercise taking place in central Estonia next week will see aroudn a thousand American and British personnel join 250 Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) soldiers, as part of the large scale Exercises Swift Response, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Tuesday night.

Swift Response is a U.S. exercise which sees large numbers of airborne personnel making drops, the EDF will primarily be involved in countermeasure aspects. The drop, centered around the village of Nurmsi, Järva County, on Thursday, May 6, and the EDF involvement are also seen as preparation for the annual EDF large-scale Exercise Spring Storm, starting May 17.

The U.S. personnel have been vaccinated, AK reported, and other coronavirus considerations will be adhered to.

The exercise sees around a dozen McDonnell Douglas / Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft flying to Estonia directly from bases in the U.S., AK reported. These planes will land at Ämari Air Base, home of one of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission's two bases, for refueling ahead of the exercise over Nurmsi, about 100 km southeast of Tallinn.

The refueling aspect along will be a logistical challenge and will need to be conducted in just a few hours, commander of the Estonian Air Force (Õhuvägi), Brig. Gen. Rauno Sirk, told AK.

"It will be an intense night," Brig. Gen. Sirk said.

"For this reason, the U.S. Air Force support element will be present with its tankers," he went on.

Each C-17's fuel tank carries thousands of liters of aviation fuel, AK noted.

Swift Response is in turn a facet of of the U.S. Defender Europe 2021 exercise, which involves 26 nations, 30,000 personnel and costs around US$150 million, AK noted.

The large number of different aircraft and helicopters in the vicinity while the exercise is going on will also require civilian air traffic control's involvement.

The EDF's own logistics battalion is not to take part in next week's exercise, however, due in part to coronavirus considerations, and is being moved to the EDF's central training polygon ahead of Spring Storm – itself a somewhat scaled-down affair, as last year.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that his country's troops would be coming home from Afghanistan, ending 20 years of operations there. The EDF has been involved there most of that time – since 2003 – and will be following suit, defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) says.

A pair of U.S. Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles were operating in Estonian airspace last week.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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