The 493d Fighter Squadron (493 FS), nicknamed “The Grim Reapers”, is part of the United States Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing located at RAF Lakenheath, England. The 493d Fighter Squadron is currently the only USAF squadron flying the F-15C Eagle within the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Major Command and has been flying the F-15C since 1994. These 493d F-15C fighter aircraft are affixed with modern weaponry systems specifically designed to locate and target enemy aircraft and include the AIM-9 and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.
The 493d provides Air-to-Air offensive and defensive support missions for United States and NATO operations. The squadron has earned multiple commendations and awards, including the Air Force Association’s Hughes Trophy in 1997 and 1999 and the 2014 Raytheon Trophy, being recognized as the top fighter squadron in the United States Air Force.
In 2015, the squadron was named the best fighter squadron in the Air Force, earning the Raytheon Trophy for 2014. During tensions in the Ukraine that threatened stability in Eastern Europe, the 493d deployed to Lithuania in less than 20 hours, to supplement the Baltic Air Policing mission. The squadron intercepted 31 Russian air force aircraft when they threatened or violated Baltic airspace. This deployment came while the squadron was simultaneously supporting a deployment to Iceland. “The squadron ‘adopted’ an orphanage in Lithuania, with airmen visiting and caring for kids for four months. The Raytheon award was the fourth for the squadron.
The U.S. Air Force deployed F-15C Eagles, Airmen and associated equipment from the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, U.K., to support the NATO Baltic Air Policing rotation at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania. The handover ceremonytook place at the Air Base of the Lithuanian Armed Forces in Šiauliai on 30 August 2017,where Poland handed over the lead of the mission to the United States Air Force.
NATO air policing is a peacetime collective defense mission, safeguarding the integrity of the NATO alliance members’ airspace. Baltic air policing is part of NATO’s “Smart Defense” model, which incorporates allied nations, conducting operations through shared capabilities and coordinated efforts to effectively accomplish missions.
“We know that all of NATO stands alongside us in defense of our shared values and principles,” said Vytautas Umbrasas, Lithuania’s vice defense minister.
“I speak on behalf of every U.S. airman here, when I say that it is our honor to protect and defend the sovereignty of the Baltic borders,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd EFS detachment commander. The 493rd EFS is slated to continue its current rotation through the end of 2017.