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U.S. and Morocco Team Up for Exercise Med Shark 2002

Navy Newsstand

Release Date: 10/20/2002 2:16:00 AM

By Journalist 1st Class(SW) Rick Collins

ABOARD USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, At Sea (NNS) -- In 1777, Morocco's Sultan Sidi Muhammad Ben Abdullah granted U.S. ships permission to enter his ports, thus becoming one of the first foreign leaders to recognize the United States as a new nation. Now more than 225 years later, the U.S. still enjoys bilateral relations with the Kingdom of Morocco.

The latest chapter in the two nations' relationship is Exercise "Med Shark 2002," a joint training exercise involving the George Washington Battle Group and elements of the Royal Moroccan Navy and Air Force.

The exercise, conducted in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, has proved to be an excellent opportunity for U.S. and Moroccan Sailors and aviators to sharpen their combat skills in both the air surface warfare and warfare arenas.

"We built a syllabus for this exercise around a partial version of the training we received at Naval Air Station Fallon, [Nev.]," explained Lt. Cmdr. Pat Hannifin, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17's exercise coordinator. "It's not as complex or near the number [of aircraft], but is the same kind of thing as far as the air-to-air part goes."

The Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81 pilot also stressed the exercise's training benefits for both militaries. "The air-to-air and low-level training and readiness is beneficial to us because we don't receive a lot of that out here. The ability to do [one-versus-one] training with hardcore basic air-to-air maneuvering is important.

"They learn a lot by working with U.S. forces - they learn how we work and how we can coordinate our efforts. They receive great air-to-air training for both their senior and junior pilots," Hannifin said.

Lt. Dave Pollard, a 28-year-old Hornet pilot on his second deployment with VFA-34's "Blue Blasters," praised the training Med Shark afforded.

"I flew a "one-v-one" against an F-5 [Tiger]. It was a lot of learning for them and for us." Pollard said his training sortie included three different scenarios. In one, Pollard evaded the attacking smaller, but agile Tiger. Then the roles were reversed. The third scenario, called a "butterfly," was a head-on engagement in which neither pilot started with an advantage. Pollard described the butterfly as two aircraft flying parallel to each other. Then one breaks left, while the other breaks right. At a predetermined point both aircraft turn and fly straight toward each other in mock engagement.

"It was a lot of learning for them as well as for us, especially for the [American] guys that had never flown against the F-5," Pollard said.

The Corpus Christi, Texas, native described the Moroccan F-1 Mirage, a French-built fighter, and the American-made F-5s, as very capable third-generation fighters. Both are flown throughout the world by U.S. allies and potential adversaries. They also have flight characteristics of several Russian-made aircraft of the same generation.

One aspect in the air phase of Med Shark required American pilots to perform ground-hugging flights; in some cases just above tree-top level. One CVW-17 pilot was thrilled to be able to train in Moroccan air space.

Lt. Jason Van Pietersom, a 26-year-old Hornet driver from VFA-34, said the opportunity to do low-level training runs at more than 500 miles an hour over unfamiliar terrain helps him prepare for the real thing. "It's tough to be proficient at it unless you do it fairly often," said Van Pietersom, a Green Bay, Wis., native. "Anytime we have the opportunity to fly in different countries, it is just a great opportunity. It hones our attack skills if we're ever called upon to go into hostile territory."

Med Shark flight operations also called for a mock attack on an airbase. Given this scenario, the low-level training sorties Van Pietersom and other CVW-17 pilots conducted came in quite handy while also providing the Moroccans valuable training at defending their territory against airborne aggressors.

The air portions of the exercise involved virtually all CVW-17 aircraft and up to 12 Moroccan fighters a day, but the Moroccans were not the only ones protecting their assets during mock battles. GW Sailors also got a heady dose of realism when the exercise called for an attack against the American aircraft carrier without its protective fighter umbrella.

The mock assault on GW probably gave the American fire control technicians something to remember as they manned their close-in weapons' systems. Their fire control radar screens popped with bogies, but there were no "friendlies" to intercept them. "What they saw was the aircraft coming in, their profiles, and we tracked and evaluated the contacts," said Lt. Rick Beatty, GW's Combat Direction Center's exercise officer.

Cmdr. Dave Chang, Commander Cruiser Destroyer Group TWO's plans and exercise officer, said that while George Washington and CVW-17 were the primary focus of Med Shark , two battle group ships, USS Mahan (DDG 72) and USNS Supply (T-AOE 6), were also very busy. They were to work alongside four Moroccan warships conducting their own set of scenarios. The joint flotilla's scenarios had them conducting maneuvering, flashing light and air-tracking exercises; boarding, under-sea warfare and restricted transit drills; and surface gunfire exercises.

Setting up Med Shark was not a spur of the moment idea by the battle group staff. The first planning conference was held several months ago and the last one held shortly before the exercise began Sept. 23.

Hannifin said many months were involved coordinating with Moroccan military hosts, 6th Fleet Sailors, United States Defense Attach officials and embassy officials. "You have a lot of other people involved in making this [exercise] run. You just can't come in and say 'hey we want to do this with you a week or two beforehand.'"

Med Shark 02 has successfully reinforced the trust and professionalism between two countries. Although culturally diverse, both share a similar peaceful vision that has been a foundation for friendship for more than two centuries.

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