The F-15Cs of the 493rd Fighter Squadron claimed top fighter squadron honors, winning the 2014 Raytheon Trophy, officials announced on Wednesday. The unit deployed four times last year including NATO air policing rotations to Lithuania and Iceland, an emergency dispatch to Lithuania when Russia invaded Ukraine, and a quick-notice allied assurance mission to Bulgaria. In Lithuania, the “Reapers” intercepted 31 Russian aircraft in and around NATO airspace, flew 221 armed over watch sorties. They deployed six additional F-15Cs to the Baltic in less than 20 hours, in response to Russian aggression. They continued operations in Lithuania through an alert rotation to Iceland, totaling 195 days of split-deployment, according to unit officials. “I’m constantly in awe of what the team accomplishes,” said 493rd FS Commander Lt. Col. John Stratton. The unit has won the Raytheon Trophy four times, most recently in 2007, according to the release.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.