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Exercise trains U.S. forces for combat missions

by 1st Lt. Teresa Sullivan
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

6/24/2005 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFPN) -- Airmen, Sailors and Marines got a taste of realistic combat during Pacific Air Force’s premier combat-air power exercise, Cooperative Cope Thunder, which ended here June 24.

About 400 U.S. forces and their 30 aircraft conducted operations together during two weeks of large-force employment training. U.S. forces increased their warfighting capabilities by taking full advantage of more than 60,000 square miles of airspace and by working alongside allied troops from Britain, Japan and Germany, said Col. Paul Johnson, 354th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

“For an average young fighter pilot, this is an exercise in large-force employment where they sit down with offensive counterair capability -- strike and command and control aircraft, suppression of enemy air defense aircraft,” he said. “(There are) a lot of different assets that have to be coordinated and employed correctly to have success against a robust enemy. A young fighter pilot gets to see all of those things happening, from planning to execution and very detailed and accurate reconstruction and debrief.”,

Cooperative Cope Thunder missions focused on preparing pilots and crews for combat in a realistic training environment where forces were split into two opposing teams. U.S. aircraft that participated were Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and KC-135 Stratotankers, as well as Marine AV-8B Harriers and Navy EA-6B Prowlers.

Airmen with the Texas National Guard’s 182nd Fighter Squadron brought six F-16s and about 100 maintainers, aircrew and intelligence Airmen. They mainly flew air-to-air missions and fought for both the good and bad guys.

The large-force employments, with up to 32 aircraft flying at once, rated as the best part of the training, said Lt. Col. Mike Efferson, 182nd FS flight commander and F-16 pilot.

“The most valuable part of this training exercise was the exposure to the large-force employment and flying with that many aircraft at once,” he said. “It’s the obvious benefit of Cooperative Cope Thunder -- to get all the people together and execute the plan.”

The Texas guardsmen focused on sharpening air-to-air skills.

“Our premise in coming up here was to improve our air-to-air skills and help others to improve theirs,” Colonel Efferson said. “I think we met our goal based on the feedback we’ve received and the debriefs.”

The Airmen with the 18th FS here benefited from the Texas Air National Guard’s air-to-air expertise, said 1st Lt. Bobby Sturgill, an F-16 pilot with the squadron.

“The Texas (guardsmen) were really valuable to our training,” Lieutenant Sturgill said. “They presented a great challenge for us. With them we could try out new tactics to see what works better.”

The 18th FS Airmen had about 20 pilots, five intelligence specialists and about 100 maintainers conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

“I flew my first few simulated combat missions during this exercise, so now I’ve got some experience under my belt,” Lieutenant Sturgill said. “For me, the biggest challenge was the mission planning and coordination. The best part was making ‘kills.’ Flying with numerous people, including U.S. forces, Japanese and British forces, as opposed to the standard four-versus-four sortie was huge. It was a constant fight out there.”

Like the 18th and 182nd Fighter Squadrons, Marines with the 542nd Marine Attack Squadron said the large-force employments were the most valuable part of training.

“We don’t have too many opportunities to drop live ordnance where we are on the East Coast,” said Marine Maj. Todd Tetterton, an AV-8B pilot and operations officer. “We did here, and it was great training.”

The Marines, based out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., had nine jets and more than 130 maintainers and pilots participating. They flew primarily striker missions, sneaking in to bomb the target, then egressing.

Marine Lance Cpl. Henry Develle, an intelligence specialist, said interacting with joint and allied forces from Japan, Britain and Germany provided valuable learning experience.

“From an intelligence perspective, I learned a few things from watching how the Air Force aligns their intelligence,” he said. “It was great to learn from other people, from other services and nations.”

The Sailors had a completely different mission than the Airmen or Marines and for them, Cooperative Cope Thunder was a fertile training ground, said Navy Lt. j.g. Stephen Skoda, an EA-6B pilot with the 142nd Electronic Attack Squadron.

With Prowlers, 22 aircrew members and more than 100 maintainers, the Sailors based out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., focused on suppressing enemy air defenses.

“We received the signals of enemies’ emitters and determined what kind of surface-to-air missile sites were out there in the range, and then we either jammed them or we simulated shooting a high-speed anti-radiation missile at them,” the lieutenant said.

The Sailors said coordination was the key to success for them during this exercise.

“We learned a lot from coordinating with the Air Force and Marines during mission planning and in the air,” Lieutenant Skoda said. “We learned what capabilities participating aircraft have and what they need from us so we can work together as a team. Watching everything come together in the air was amazing. To see tons of pieces moving as one was a huge experience. The experience gained from this exercise will help our unit because we’re deploying to Southwest Asia early next year.”

For these fighter units to fly and fight longer, they required assistance from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

“We refueled for both (sides) during the exercise,” said Captain Brandon Leifer, a KC-135 pilot with the squadron. “We’re force extenders. We enable fighters to fly and fight longer by conducting aerial refueling missions.”

The Kadena-based unit had three KC-135s, 40 maintainers and 18 aircrew members participating in the exercise.

Cooperative Cope Thunder participants should leave here as better warfighters, Colonel Johnson said.

“If you take part in this exercise, you should walk away with your own capabilities increased, and just as important, you should walk away from the exercise confident in your partner’s capability,” Colonel Johnson said. “In a real contingency in real life, you know what other forces’ capabilities are when they’re fighting right next to you.”

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