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Cope Thunder exercise begins

by Tech. Sgt. William Farrow
354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/7/2005 - EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFPN) -- Cope Thunder 06-1 participants are using the 62,000 square miles of airspace at this remote base to “fly, fight and win” during Pacific Air Force’s premier combat airpower exercise.

The two-week exercise, which will run through Oct. 21, is the command’s largest air combat training exercise, involving more than 1,000 active-duty and Air National Guard Airmen and 87 aircraft. It is conducted on the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex with air operations flown out of here and nearby Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The exercise involves several units whose missions may differ significantly, but allow the opportunity to work together in a training environment with units they may deploy with in the future.

“Cope Thunder provides aircrews an outstanding opportunity to take advantage of the (range complex) capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Eddie Osteen, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron director of operations. “We expose them to large-force employment scenarios as well as missions tailored to what they may likely see during deployment.”

This year’s exercise features large-force employment training as well as close-air support, combat search and rescue, time-sensitive targeting and B-1B Lancer missions from overseas and continental U.S. locations, Colonel Osteen said.

The vast airspace and diverse terrain of the range attracts several units to the exercise, said Colonel Osteen who is responsible for the development and execution of the exercises.

Participating forces are divided into opposing red and blue forces flying against each other in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat and combat support missions using a variety of aircraft against a realistic set of threats. Fighting against a robust air-to-air and surface-to-air threat provides a challenge.

“The pilots are flying simulated combat missions over tundra, rolling hills and 13,000-foot mountain ranges, dropping [weapons] on realistic targets located on live-impact areas, and all the while they have to remain aware of the surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery simulators as well as the opposing red air forces,” Colonel Osteen said.

“(The exercise is) one of the most realistic and valuable learning opportunities many military pilots will ever encounter,” he added.

The challenge does not stop with Airmen behind the flight controls. Aircraft maintainers and other combat support team Airmen are learning here, too.

By working out of unfamiliar surroundings, the people on the ground are conducting business like they would if a unit were deployed for a wartime mission, said Staff Sgt. Eric Landers, a 353rd CTS weapons liaison.

“They bring everything with them to maintain and repair their weapons system,” Sergeant Landers said. “From tools to parts to test equipment, they are operating just like they would if they were to deploy to a bare base.”

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