A Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise initiated in 1976, Cope Thunder was devised as a way to give aircrews their first taste of warfare and quickly grew into PACAF's "premier simulated combat airpower employment exercise." Prior to Operation Desert Storm, less than one-fifth of the U.S. Air Force's primary fighter pilots had seen actual combat. While the percentage of combat-experienced pilots has increased in recent years, a high percentage of pilots haven't been thrust into combat. Analysis indicates most combat losses occurrred during an aircrew's first eight to 10 missions. Therefore, the goal of Cope Thunder is to provide each aircrew with these first vital missions, increasing their chances of survival in combat environments.
Cope Thunder was moved to Eielson from Clark Air Base in the Philippines in 1992, when the eruption of Mount Pinatubo forced the curtailment of operations there. When the decision was made to relocate Cope Thunder, Air Force officials viewed Eielson Air Force Base as the most logical choice. That decision was based partly on the fact that Eielson's 353rd Combat Training Squadron already controlled and maintained three major military flight training ranges in Alaska.
Cope Thunder is a realistic, 10-day air combat training exercise held up to four times a year. Each Cope Thunder exercise is a multi-service, multi-platform coordinated, combat operations exercise and corresponds to the designed operational capability of participating units. In other words, exercises often involve several units whose military mission may differ significantly from that of other participating units. Cope Thunder planners take those factors into consideration when designing exercises so participants get the maximum training possible without being placed at an unfair advantage during simulated combat scenarios.
Cope Thunder participants are organized into "Red" defensive forces and "Blue" offensive forces. "White" forces represent the neutral controlling agency. The defensive force includes ground-control intercept and surface air defense forces to simulate threats posed by potentially hostile nations. These forces generally employ defensive counter-air tactics directed by ground-control intercept sites. Range threat emitters -- electronic devices which send out signals simulating anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile launches -- provide valuable surface-to-air training and are operated by a civilian contractor as directed by 353th Combat Training Squadron technicians. The offensive force includes the full spectrum of U.S. and allied tactical and support units. Because the defensive and offensive forces meet in a simulated hostile, non-cooperative training environment, the job of controlling the mock war and ensuring safety falls to the White neutral force.
On an average, more than 700 people and up to 60 aircraft deploy to Eielson, and an additional 500 people and 40 aircraft deploy to Elmendorf Air Force Base, for each Cope Thunder exercise. Most participating Cope Thunder units arrive a week prior to the actual exercise. During that time, aircrews may fly one or two range orientation flights, make physical and mental preparations, hone up on local flying restrictions, receive local safety and survival briefings, and work on developing orientation plans.
During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, aircrews are subjected to every conceivable combat threat. Scenarios are shaped to meet each exercise's specific training objectives. All units are involved in the development of exercise training objectives. At the height of the exercise, up to 70 jet fighters can be operating in the same airspace at one time. Typically, Cope Thunder conducts two combat missions each day. Operations are generally held during daylight hours.
All Cope Thunder exercises take place over Alaskan and Canadian airspace. The entire airspace is made up of 17 permanent military operations areas and high altitude training areas, plus two restricted areas, for a total airspace of more than 66,000 square miles.
In response to complaints of high-speed, low-altitude jet traffic, no-fly zones and altitude restrictions were established in parts of the airspace to minimize the noise impact on humans and wildlife. These mitigation measures include areas near Circle, Central and Circle Hot Springs; and around American Peregrine Falcon nesting areas in the Yukon and Charley Rivers areas.
Cope Thunder also helps the economic environment. The economic impact of the exercises on the communities surrounding Eielson and Elmendorf AFBs have been large and should continue to be so. In 1993 alone, military members taking part in the exercises poured more than $2 million into the local economy.
Eielson AFB building projects resulting all or in part from Cope Thunder include a $23 million transient personnel facility, the recently completed $13 million Cope Thunder operations building, a $35 million air-to-air tracking system; eight two-bay all-weather aircraft shelters valued at $25 million, and completion of a $2 million range microwave link. Additionally, the number of threat emitters on Cope Thunder ranges was doubled from 14 to 28 and several of the communication systems between ranges and Eielson have been upgraded.
Since its inception, thousands of people from all four branches of the military, as well as the armed services of the Philippines, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and the Republic of Singapore, have taken part in Cope Thunder exercises.
In 1997 more than 2,000 people deployed to Cope Thunder, and participating aircrews flew close to 2,000 missions. During 1998 units from PACAF, Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, the Japanese Self-Defense Force, and the Royal Air Force are scheduled to take part in Cope Thunder exercises. Aircraft involved include F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, EA-6Bs, OA-10s, A-10s, C-130s, KC-130s, KC-135s, KC-10s, E-3Cs, HC-130s, various helicopters and British Tornadoes, Nimrods, VC-10s and Jaguars as well as Army, Marine and Japanese Air Self Defense Force Stinger Teams.
Although Northern Edge '99 kicked off for most everyone March 1, Eielson Air Force Base began their portion of Northern Edge '99 Feb. 15 with Cope Thunder 99-01. Cope Thunder is a 10-day air combat exercise that was fully integrated into Northern Edge operations.
Aircrews aren't the only ones who benefit from the Cope Thunder experience. Exercises provide an operations training environment for participants such as unit-level intelligence experts, maintenance crews, and command and control elements. By providing generic, unclassified scenarios using common worldwide threats, and simulated combat conditions, Cope Thunder gives everyone an opportunity to make the tough calls combat often requires. It's that broad range that allows Cope Thunder to remain dedicated to providing realistic combat training for the entire warfighting machine.
The 353rd CTS is leading the charge to create a Joint Training Center in Alaska. Exercise Northern Edge is held annually with U.S. Army Alaska and U.S. Navy Alaska, which conducts training on the Oklahoma Range at the plywood town of Simpsonville, located 20 miles west of Delta Junction, and at ports south of Anchorage. Cope Thunder white force people help the Army facilitate this exercise, which recently was run from the squadron's operations building.
The 353rd Combat Training Squadron is responsible for organizing, planning and executing realistic combat training at Eielson, including Cope Thunder. All the activities on Alaska's three weapons training ranges -- incorporating more than 66,000 square miles of airspace, 28 threat systems, and 235 targets for range and exercise operations -- are planned and controlled by 353rd CTS personnel.
The three tactical ranges supervised by the squadron's range division are Blair Lakes, Yukon and Oklahoma.
The Blair Lakes Conventional Range is located approximately 26 miles southwest of Eielson AFB. Isolated in a sub-arctic tundra environment, this range is manned continuously and is normally accessible only by helicopter.
The Yukon Tactical and Electronic Warfare Range is located 15 miles east of Eielson. Accessible most of the year, this mountainous complex is only manned as necessary to provide electronic warfare training.
The Oklahoma Tactical Range is located within the U.S. Army's Cold Region Test Center at Fort Greely and is the largest of the three ranges, encompassing more than 500,000 acres of relatively flat, open terrain.
The 353rd CTS Cope Thunder operations and maintenance divisions provide a cadre of experienced people of varied specialities to prepare, provide and support joint air combat training ranging from Cope Thunder to weapons training deployments by individual units.
Cooperative Cope Thunder
Cope Thunder hosted the first Cooperative Thunder in 1998. It is a PACAF sponsored Cope Thunder designed to bring Pacific Rim nations to Alaska to train and fight together. This exercise showcased multi-national airlift operations combined with interdiction, personnel recovery and counter-air missions. Participating countries included the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and Japan. These countries brought transport, fighter and ground teams to add to the diversity of combat employment.
Participants from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), and the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) took part in the two-week training at Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases (AFBs). From Japan, the JASDF deployed a stinger missile team from Chitose Air Base, and three C-130s from the 1st Tactical Airlift Wing, Komaki Air Base. The Singapore contingent involved the deployment of a C-130 from the 122 Squadron, Paya Lebar Air Base, Singapore, six RSAF F-16s from the RSAF element training in the combined Singapore-U.S. 428th Fighter Squadron at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, a Rapier Air Defense Artillery platoon, and a Tactical Air Control Party. An RTAF C-130 aircraft and crew from the 601 Squadron deployed all the way from Thailand for the combined exercise. A pararescueman from the Canadian Armed Forces also took part in the exercise.
From the US Air Force (USAF), F-15s, F-16s, A-10s, KC-135s, C-130 and HC-130 aircraft, an E-3, an AWACS aircraft and HH-60 helicopters arrived in Alaska from USAF and Air National Guard units in Alaska and from as far away as Japan and Hawaii. In addition to the fighter, airlift and refueling crews, COPE THUNDER involved US Army Special Forces and Army CH-47 helicopters, US Navy SEAL Team personnel and Navy HH-60H helicopters, and USAF pararescue and -Combat Control Team personnel.
The scenario for this COPE THUNDER exercise included humanitarian airlift and peacekeeping missions in keeping with PACAF's efforts to enhance international cooperation. The training allowed participating air force units to sharpen air combat skills, exchange air-operations tactics, and promoted closer relations among regional air forces and nations. Teams flew air-to-air and air-to-ground combat and combat support missions using a variety of aircraft weapon systems against a realistic set of real and simulated threats. At the height of the exercise, over 80 aircraft were operating in the same airspace at one time.
In addition to direct participants, Japan and Thailand provided additional observers to determine how they may further benefit from expanded participation in future exercises. Other observers at the exercise came from Australia, Brunei, China, and Malaysia. Besides its two official observers, China sent 43 senior officers from its Air Force Command College for a two-day observation of COPE THUNDER operations. Though not direct participants, the official observers from the six countries had the opportunity to play a passive role in the exercise when they took part in the noncombatant evacuation operation.
Cooperative Cope Thunder 2002 began in July and ended on July 26. As part of this year's Cooperative Cope Thunder, the 354th Fighter Wing will train alongside U.S. Marines and armed forces from England, France, Japan, Singapore and Spain. This year more than 900 people and up to 60 aircraft are deployed for CCT. An additional 400 people and 40 aircraft are at Elmendorf.
Cooperative Cope Thunder 2005 rand from June 9-24, 2005 and highlighted multinational operations combined with interdiction, suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, and counterair missions. Countries participating in that year's exercise included Australia, Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Representatives from Bangladesh, India, Mongolia and Sri Lanka observed the exercise. Although this was the third year of Japanese participation, it was the first time they brought their F-15 and E-767 airborne warning and control system aircraft here. Other aircraft deployed included NATO airborne warning and control system aircraft from Royal Air Force Waddington, England; Marine AV-8B Harriers from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.; Navy EA-6B Prowlers from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.; F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Texas Air National Guard's 182nd Fighter Squadron; and KC-135 Stratotankers from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Local participants included the 18th Fighter Squadron.
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