CVW-7 Completes History-Making Missile Shoot
Story Number: NNS040317-06
Release Date: 3/17/2004 11:17:00 AM
By Journalist 1st Class Tracey Goff, USS George Washington Public Affairs
USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, At Sea (NNS) -- Launching from USS George Washington's (CVN 73) flight deck on the afternoon of Feb. 25, aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7 fired 17 live missiles onto a range over the Arabian Sea in two separate waves.
The history-making missile exercise took place during a routine deployment for the George Washington Strike Group, deployed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
The ordnance was delivered by Fighter Squadrons (VF) 11 and 143 flying F-14B Tomcats, and Strike Fighter Squadrons (VFA) 131 and 136 in F/A-18C Hornets. Clearing the way for the fighter jets were the E2-C Hawkeye pilots of Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 and Sea Control Squadron (VS) 31 in the S-3B Viking.
Each squadron had its own responsibility to ensure a safe and successful exercise. A total of four F-14s and four F/A-18s left the ship in two separate waves on what may be one of the last live missile exercises for the F-14 Tomcat, which proved it could still deliver a lethal blow to enemy targets.
"The theory was to prove that even though the Phoenix has been in the inventory for more than two decades, they are still capable of projecting power and showing that they remain a very viable option in the air-to-air regime," said Lt.j.g. Matt Tallyn of VF-143 "Pukin' Dogs."
The Hornets provided the targets. "We dropped two of the three tactical air launch decoys, or TALDs," said Lt. Brian Larmon of VFA-131 "Wildcats." "It's a type of ordnance that glides. It simulates the profile of an aircraft we would be shooting at. It can be set up to turn or go straight. We can pick it up on radar and shoot it."
Once the Hornets dropped the TALDs, it was time for history to be made. The Tomcats and the Hornets fired their missiles: a total of 16 Phoenix missiles from the Tomcats and one Sparrow from the Hornets.
"It's very rare that you'll see eight Phoenix missiles shot off at the same time," said Tallyn, a radar intercept officer in the second wave of aircraft. "They all worked perfectly, exactly as they were designed. We were excited and thrilled that we were able to go out there and prove that the system is fully functional, and get eight picture-perfect missile shoots. That's as much as you can ask from a missile shoot."
VF-11 "Red Ripper" Lt. Garrett Shook agreed. "It was a once-in-a-career opportunity for me, because we shot two at a time, which is pretty rare. In one hour, I doubled the number of missiles I've shot in my career."
Lt. j.g. Mike Manicchia of VFA-136 got the rush of shooting the Sparrow. "It's pretty out of the ordinary. We get to drop plenty of bombs at practice targets, but not fire missiles. That's something we never do. Most guys might get to shoot one missile on their first sea tour, so this is a big deal."
Working out the intricacies of a tactical exercise of this magnitude does not happen overnight. Lt. Mike Burks, the air-to-air weapons training officer from VF-11 who planned the missile exercise, said it was only through a culmination of efforts that this mission was a success.
"It was about a three-week process from start to finish," he said. "It required the coordination of assets from all the squadrons in the air wing, as well as reserving both the air space and the sea space for the missile exercise."
Once the range was clear, it was time to let the beasts off the ship, or in this case, the Tomcats, the Hornets, the Sparrow and the Phoenix.
"The Hawkeyes and the Vikings were out there about three hours before the exercise began, clearing the space and establishing a good picture for all of us back here so we could start to build a game plan," said Burks. "By the time the missile shoot was launched, we had a very good idea of what the sea space and air space looked like, so we didn't encounter problems with range foulers."
"We provide overall safety and a digital picture of what the battle space looks like," said VAW-121's Air Control Officer, Lt. Chris Barker. "We paint a picture of the area with our over-the-horizon radar."
This technology is used to make sure the area is clear of any civilian traffic, or range foulers, which could slow down or halt the exercise. "We ensured there were no commercial airliners or any ships that are non-military, such as cargo ships and oil tankers, in the area of the missile exercise," Barker said. "If there are, we then provide steering courses for the S-3s to relay to the ships."
The VS-31 "Topcats" then used their aircraft's unique ability to fly low and slow as a means of contacting ships straying into the reserved sea space. "We are in charge of range clearance," said Lt.j.g. Brad Beall, a naval flight officer for the "Topcats." "We call them on a maritime common frequency to let them know they are in a military live fire exercise. We ask them to alter their course and get them out of danger."
But the aviators are quick to mention they couldn't do it without the help of other ship and squadron personnel. The squadron's ordnance personnel got a unique opportunity to use the skills they've trained so hard to hone. "They get to load live ordnance that they don't usually get to see," said Manicchia.
"There are always a lot of people that go and really make it work," Tallyn said. "We tell them this is what you do all the hard work for; this is why it's so important to keep doing it. We're just the ones who pull the trigger."
Once all the aircraft returned to the ship, the reality of the accomplishment set in. "You really only get one opportunity to do this," said Burks. "Making sure all the players know their role is the number one key to a good missile exercise. It's a matter of briefing everybody and making sure that all the players know their responsibilities and also all the back-up plans so if we need to move to a back-up plan, it's smooth and efficient, and people aren't having to ask a lot of questions."
Shook backed Burks up. "For a missile exercise, it went real smooth. The coordination, the planning and the cooperation between squadrons all went smooth enough to get the missiles off on the first try.
"When we do a missile exercise from the beach, we'll probably fly the missiles without shooting them at least once. We'll practice once, then go out and shoot it. We'd never flown the missiles before. We'd never practiced the scenario. We just briefed it, and then went out and did it. It was real successful."
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