Royal Air Force flies with 82nd Reconnaissance Squadron

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Luis E. Rios Calderon
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs

For over a decade, the U.S. Air Force and the United Kingdom Royal Air Force have been partnering together to enhance crew training, technology development, maintenance and aircrew co-manning. This year marks the first time an RAF flight lieutenant was integrated into the RC-135 Rivet Joint program.

“The Royal Air Force bought into the air seeker program back in 2010 after the decommissioning of the Nimrod R1 to regain those signal intelligence capabilities back into the Royal Air Force,” said RAF Flt. Lt. Jan Van Vreden, who participated in the RC-135 Rivet Joint integration program with the 82nd Reconnaissance Squadron at Kadena. “So that’s when that intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and the U.K. started to regenerate.” 

Van Vreden said RAF pilots co-crew and train in the school house with the 338th Combat Training Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, before returning to the U.K. and going through a U.K. acceptance program that prepares them to be combat ready before reintegrating with USAF aircrews.

“This way our pilots are both combat ready and able to crew independently with U.S. aircrews, so if ever needed, a U.K. aircraft commander can take command of a USAF aircraft and vice versa,” Van Vreden said. “We’ve been doing it routinely with the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron [at RAF Mildenhall] because of how close they are to us, and it has helped us streamline what we do in a similar way as the 95th.”

“Working with Flt. Lt. Van Vreden has been an absolute pleasure,” said USAF Lt. Col. John Casey, 82d Reconnaissance Squadron commander. “He is a credit to the Royal Air Force’s No. 51 Squadron, and has brought this intimate knowledge of the European theater to the Pacific, providing our aircrews with growth opportunities that we wouldn’t normally see out here.”

Casey said that the integration program in the Pacific began in 2021, with Flt. Lt. Van being the first RAF pilot participant.

“Overall, it has been a resounding success for both the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force,” Casey said. “I wish he could spend more time with us, but I look forward to more co-manning opportunities with the No. 51 Squadron and the Royal Air Force as a whole.” 

“It shows the importance of the Pacific and the platform as a whole, having the U.K. investing their resources and sending their members to the Pacific,” Casey said. “Showing the importance of it and their appreciation for how important a free and open Indo-Pacific is.”

Between receiving mentoring from the instructor pilot that was on board with them and getting a chance to be the acting aircraft commander, Van Vreden said actioning everything instead of going through a checklist was all part of an amazing mentoring experience.

“The operational tempo has been great, we get a lot of flying done. The way they do things here is a lot more straightforward, which in my opinion is the ideal way of doing things,” Van Vreden said. “You plan and fly on the same day, and with changing conditions or mission profiles, it helps us develop our flexibility. We have to be flexible and that’s probably one of the biggest things I will take back to my squadron to help maximize our efficiency.”

Van Vreden said his time in Okinawa has been fantastic and helped him build up his professional and personal experiences.

“It raises the collaboration between us and our nations, it helps bolster relations between the U.K. and the US, and it's a statement about the long-standing relationship between our intelligence communities,” Van Vreden said. “We hope this helps promote the 82nd and Kadena with its unique tempo and operational environment to RAF headquarters. We need the experience out here and I’m hoping this helps encourage more future deployments out here.”

The 82nd and 95th Reconnaissance Squadrons are geographically separated units of the 55th Wing, which is headquartered at Offutt AFB.