RAF LAKENHEATH, England – The command of a unit instrumental in comforting U.S. allies unnerved by Russian actions in Ukraine changed hands on Monday.
Col. Robert Novotny assumed command of the 48th Fighter Wing and RAF Lakenheath from Col. Kyle Robinson at a ceremony on base. Novotny, who has more than 540 hours of combat flying, was previously assigned to the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force and the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Novotny said he picked the 48th when someone asked about two years ago what command he might want someday.
“They’re forward, they’re in the fight (and) they’re ready,” Novotny said during the ceremony.
During almost those same two years, the 48th deployed to Afghanistan, Africa and the Persian Gulf and destroyed 477 targets during 4,600 combat flying hours, according to an award citation for Robinson.
The 48th currently has airmen providing security for Air Force equipment in Djibouti and F-15E Strike Eagles operating in the U.S. Central Command region, an area that includes Afghanistan.
The 48th has also been on the front line of the U.S. effort to bolster European allies nervous about Russia. Four F-15C Eagles were on the Baltic Air Policing mission earlier this year when Russian-aided separatists took control of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula. In response to the concerns of Baltic states, Lakenheath later deployed six more F-15s.
“The public has once again been reminded of how important air superiority is, and it’s because of our neighbors in the east,” said Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, 3rd Air Force commander, who presided over the change of command.
The size of the 48th’s fleet, the only Air Force F-15 wing in Europe, has recently been called into question. Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander Europe, said in June that officials had drafted “preliminary plans or results” to remove F-15s from Europe.
However, Defense Department leaders told Congress last week they may delay the downsizing of the European F-15 fleet to maintain a vigorous presence in the region.