On 4 April 2012, the US Air Force conducted a major exercise intended to validate long-range capabilities of various aircraft, notably the B-1 bomber and F-22 fighter. Dubbed Operation Chimichanga, KC-135 Stratotankers from the 168th Air Refueling Wing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aggressor aircraft from Misawa Air Base, Japan; B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota; and the F-22 Raptor fighter and E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft assigned to the 3rd Wing participated in the operation.
Planning for the exercise began in December 2011, with aircrews and a myriad of support agencies assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing began working closely with the 608th Air Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to develop a long range strike exercise aimed at improving processes noted during 28th Bomb Wing's participation in Operation Odyssey Dawn over Libya in 2011. The final exercise incorporated multiple live fly participants and command and control elements. The exercise started with a simulated warning order, continued through course of action development, execution order, air tasking order, live fly, and finished with battle damage assessment and an after action report.
Personnel operated F-22s, KC-135s and F-16s out of Eielson Air Force Base, while E-3s and additional F-16s supported the exercise from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The B-1s participating in the long-range strike exercise flew a 10-hour round trip mission from Ellsworth Air Force Base to strike their targets just east of Eielson. This exercise allowed the various aircraft to work together in a simulated strike environment to practice interoperability while simultaneously traveling long distances and receiving air refueling support. The exercise was the first time F-22 Increment 3.1 hardware and software upgrade was used in a large force employment exercise.
The operation was conducted on the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex near Eielson Air Force Base. The 65,000-square mile air space provided a diverse training environment, allowing pilots to train realistically and jointly in situations similar to what they might face in combat.
The exercise joined the Red Flag exercise as another valuable addition to the training regime aimed at continuously improving and keeping Airmen prepared for future missions. Some official reporting suggested that this was not the first time the exercise had been conducted, noting that it was the first time "...[F-22] Raptors participated in this exercise..." Other news reporting suggested that the exercise could be a run-up to an attack on Iran over its nuclear program or as a warning to the Chinese in light of continued tensions over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
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