KADENA AIR BASE, Japan –
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 a RAF flight lieutenant was integrated into the RC-135 Rivet Joint program.
“The Royal Air Force bought into the air secret program back in 2010 after the decommissioning of the Nimrod R1 to regain those signal intelligence capabilities back into the Royal Air Force,” said Royal Air Force Flt. Lt. Jan Van Vreden, who participated in the RC-135 Rivet Joints integration program 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 before returning to the U.K. and going through a U.K. acceptance program, preparing them to be combat-ready before re-integrating with U.S. Air Force 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 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 U.S. Air Force 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 to participate in the integration program.
“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 has helped him build up both 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.”