For the first time in over a decade, the US Air Force is publicly acknowledging it runs an air war out of Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.
The US embassy in country recently worked with Emirati counterparts to make the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing — an Air Combat Command-run unit at the base — known, officials told Military.com.
Military.com first spoke with members of the 380th on a trip to the Middle East earlier this summer on condition the name and location of the base not be disclosed, and that full names of personnel not be used due to safety concerns amid ongoing air operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
While the 380th was established at the base on Jan. 25, 2002, the US military has had a presence on the base for approximately 25 years. The base is home to a variety of combat operations.
Senior Airman Deandre Barnes, 1st Fighter Wing crew chief, awaits orders from Capt. Blaine Jones, First Fighter Wing F-22 Raptor pilot. USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Charles Larkin Sr.
In addition to housing one of the largest fuel farms in the world, the wing houses such aircraft as the KC-10 tanker; the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude drone; the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, aircraft; the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane; and the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet.
Together, these aircraft carry out missions such as air refueling, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control, ground attack, air support, and others.
The 380th also runs its own intel analysis and air battle-management command and control center known as "The Kingpin."
Like moving chess pieces, "Kingpin has the [air tasking order] — they're talking to people on the ground, they're making sure these airplanes are provisionally controlled, getting them back and forth to tankers … they're talking to the [Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar], they minimize the fog and friction for the entire [area of responsibility]" in US Central Command, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th AEW and an F-22 pilot.
Airmen from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Honor Guard participate in a special Memorial Day retreat ceremony. Photo by Master Sgt. Jenifer Calhoun.
Meanwhile, the general was candid about what the US mission could be after ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria.
Corcoran said, "We're fighting an enemy — ISIS — in another country — Syria — where there's also an insurgency going on, but we're not really invited to be" a part of that, he said. "But we can't leave it to the Syrians to get rid of ISIS, because that wasn't working, right? So it's really an odd place to be."
He added, "We know … we're going to defeat ISIS. Their days are numbered. What next?"