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Iron Thunder roars through Shaw

by Senior Airman John Gordinier
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

2/12/2007 - SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNEWS) -- Thunder was heard throughout the Carolinas in early February as more than 100 Air Force, Navy, Marine and Royal Air Force aircraft participated in Exercise Iron Thunder.

The four-day, multiservice and multinational exercise, hosted by the 77th Fighter Squadron here, prepared participants for future contingency operations by offering a chance for players to be exposed to missions identical to those faced in combat. 

Participating aircraft included B-1 Lancers from Dyess AFB, Texas, F-15E Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., E-8 Joint STARS from Robins AFB, Ga., F/A-18 Hornets from both Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 77th, 79th and 55th Fighter Squadrons here and the Alabama Air National Guard in Montgomery, Ala., and KC-135 Stratotankers from RAF Mildenhall, England, as well as refueling tankers from all over the Southeast and Northeast. 

An E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system from Tinker AFB, Okla., and a British E-3 from RAF Waddington, England, participated in the exercise as well, said Capt. Kevin Pugh, the 79th FS weapons and tactics large force exercise officer.

The E-3 from Britain participates in many American exercise scenarios to include Iron Thunder and Red Flag, said RAF Squadron Commander Gary Coleman, an 8th Squadron pilot.

"It is a benefit for us to get the chance to train with coalition aircraft," the squadron commander said. "Training and getting familiar with the way coalition forces operate helps us when we assist in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom." 

Iron Thunder had suppression of enemy air defense and air-to-air combat scenarios, Captain Pugh said. There were two phases in the exercise. One phase had blue air protecting a target from red air, the aggressors. The other had blue air attacking an enemy target. Who flew blue or red air during the exercise, which was off the North Carolina coastline, was determined each day.

On a typical day during Iron Thunder, the E-3 and about six or seven tankers took off, then the fighters rolled out to the coastlines between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Charleston, S.C. They flew north toward the North Carolina coastline and received fuel from tankers. The fighters were approximately 120 miles off the coast of North Carolina when the first phase of exercise play began, Captain Pugh said. There are approximately 85 blue air aircraft, which includes escorts, versus about 15 red air aircraft. Blue air, which targets were along the coastline, headed west and red air headed east. Blue air performed simulated attacks toward red air until the threat was destroyed.

For the next phase, blue air attacked an enemy location on the North Carolina coastline, he said. They simulated dropping bombs.

"Iron Thunder trains our pilots and coalition pilots to perform better for future contingencies," Captain Pugh said. "That way, when we are all called upon to fight, we can successfully fight together."

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