Six F-15E Strike Eagles landed here with a modified munitions configuration on Apr. 25, 2021, as part of an Agile Combat Employment operation in the U.S. Central Command theater. The 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron executed the first combat tactical ferry mission for the F-15E platform, enabling the six-ship to carry double their standard munitions load. The 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron showcased the initial ACE proof of concept on Feb. 22, 2021, when they flew an F-15E fighter aircraft carrying six JDAMS in a single sortie.
The team that executed the ACE concept for combat operations included pilots, weapon system officers, maintainers, and munitions Airmen from the 332nd with support from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing. The fighter squadron, also known as the “Panthers,” are forward deployed from their home station at Lakenheath Air Base, England. The 494th EFS re-located to Al Dhafra Air Base from an undisclosed location in order to support U.S. Air Forces Central priorities to promote regional security, as well as posture for future air warfare capabilities.
The forward deployed 494th EFS will begin flying air tasking orders immediately to support U.S. Central Command priorities. The 494th Fighter Squadron (494th FS), nicknamed the Panthers, is part of the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, where they operate the McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle. The 494th FS is a combat-ready McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle squadron capable of executing strategic attack, interdiction, and counter air missions in support of United States Air Forces in Europe, United States European Command, and NATO operations.
The Strike Eagle represented a change from a strictly ground attack role to a dual role mission for the 494th: air interdiction and air superiority. When squadron components are the primary force provider deploying to support Air Expeditionary operations the provisional unit is designated as the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. The 494th Fighter Squadron was announced as the recipient of the 2018 Raytheon Trophy. The squadron received the 66-year-old trophy, a servicewide award sponsored by defense contractor Raytheon, for its overall performance and in recognition of its six-month deployment to the Middle East.