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Fighter jets leave Suffolk base

PUBLISHED: 05:33 18 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:12 24 February 2010

TWO squadrons of US fighter jets from a Suffolk airbase have taken to the skies for a series of combat training missions over Europe as the prospect of war with Iraq looms large.

TWO squadrons of US fighter jets from a Suffolk airbase have taken to the skies for a series of combat training missions over Europe as the prospect of war with Iraq looms large.

Some 16 F-15 fighters and around 120 personnel left Lakenheath yesterday for Spain and Portugal where they will train alongside NATO and Royal Navy aircraft.

Before take-off, commander of the 492nd Fighter Squadron Lt Col Jay Silveria said his squadron was already well prepared for any action that could take place in Iraq.

"They are as ready as they can be but they are fired up and excited about this training," he said.

"They know that the air to air and air to ground training we will be doing will make them better prepared.

"This training is fine tuning for us. Whether we continue to fly here in Lakenheath or we are asked to participate in the war on terrorism it will help us to perform effectively."

He explained that the squadron returned from active duty over northern Iraq in September, after spending six months in Operation Northern Watch alongside the RAF.

"Most of the squadron has actually flown over Iraq. We are a very experienced force now. Conditions in Europe will be different but it is important to exercise as a unit," he added.

While the 492nd Squadron trains in Portugal, their colleagues from the 493rd Fighter Squadron will fly to Spain.

Both units will fly in exercises with NATO and Royal Navy planes acting as both defenders and aggressors as they perform different scenarios.

The F-15E Strike Eagles will also rehearse bombing scenarios using laser guidance technology.

"We are always training towards the scenarios which could occur in the field of combat so this will be no different, this is the way we always do business," said Lt Col Silveria.

"But it means something special to us that we will support the President to execute our nation's will."

With more than 3700 hours of flying experience, Lt Col Silveria said he was not nervous about the prospect of war.

He added: "We haven't been told which squadrons may or may not be called upon.

"I'm not nervous for my safety, I'm nervous that we should succeed in the most efficient and quickest way possible."

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