The Drogue: A Key to Deterrence

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Caya
  • 914th Air Refueling Wing
One aspect of interoperability between Ally Nations is the ability to keep airborne operations sustained. The KC-135 Stratotanker brings that capability to the fight, as aerial refueling allows aircraft to remain airborne in their area of operation for longer lengths of time.

“Exercises like Nordic Response are large scale NATO operations,” said Finland Air Force Maj. Anssi “Commando” Nieminen, flight commander for fighter squadron 11. “We can show the world we can operate in large-scale exercises with the West and tankers are true force-multipliers.”

When people think of the KC-135 Stratotanker, they may think of the long rigid boom on the tail. However, there is a second way for the Stratotanker to refuel aircraft high above the AO.

The probe-drogue concept refueling involves coupling a probe on a receiver aircraft with a probe receptacle, the drogue, attached to a flexible, fuel hose from the tanker aircraft.

914th Air Refueling Wing Boom Operator Master Sgt. Corey Palmer said he welcomed the prospect of utilizing the drogue during NR24.

“It’s a nice opportunity to do something different than a regular boom contact refueling—which is what we do routinely back home,” said Palmer. “A lot of our Allies are not equipped to do boom air refueling, so this opens up an array of aircraft to us,” he said.

Allies in the Nordic countries have many aircraft platforms such as the JAS 39 Gripen and F/A-18 Hornet variants that can only receive fuel from the drogue, said Nieminen. “It’s a big deal to have a tanker with a drogue here. It’s a true enabler for us to operate in big exercises and scenarios, like here in Nordic Response,” he said “Without the drogue we couldn’t fulfill our missions and larger scale operations.”

The ability to change from boom to drogue is paramount to interoperability within Ally Nations, during NR24.

As with all all airborne operations, maintenance Airmen are key. On the ground, maintenance Airmen swap out parts that allow the drogue to connect to the boom.

“All the maintainers are professionals at doing their job,” said Nieminen. “The capability to change from the boom to the drogue on the tanker; it’s amazing how fast they are able to do that.”

The KC-135 with the drogue configuration is crucial for countries in the High North.

“We do not have a tanker in Finland so we use the American KC-135 to train in Finnish airspace—it’s the tanker that most of the Finnish pilots start refueling with,” said Nieminen

“We have so many aircraft in the inventory that take the drogue that it is a ‘must-have’ for Allied operations,” said Nieminen “It’s a true force-multiplier in Allied operations and general deterrence as we can stay airborne for a long time and respond to short-notice missions.”

According to both Nieminen and Palmer, it takes less than ten minutes to refuel most aircraft that take the drogue, meaning the fighters can rapidly return to the battlespace and enforce deterrence.

“The KC-135 has been flying forever…to have it capable with the boom and the drogue, it’s capable of refueling any aircraft and I think that’s important for our adversaries to realize,” said Palmer. “There is unlimited capability with the tanker. We are flexible and adaptable to refuel pretty much any aircraft.”