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Air Force, Navy join forces for combat training

by Jenna McMullin
33d Fighter Wing Public Affairs

6/29/2007 - NAVAL AIR STATION KEY WEST, Fla. (AFPN) -- More than 200 Airmen and 16 F-15 Eagles from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., completed two completed two weeks of joint training operations with the Navy June 29 at Naval Air Station Key West. 

The Airmen from the 60th Fighter Squadron participated in the dissimilar air combat training, or DACT, exercise with Naval aviators to experience how each other flies and fights.

Meshing the services' training objectives illuminated one goal of the 60th FS DACT exercise, said Capt. Joe Chennault, the project officer for the deployment.

"It's not an every day occurrence for us to work so closely with the Navy," Captain Chennault said. "Whether I'm talking real-time in a combat-theater mission or a training sortie, I now know what I need to say to make them understand and vice versa."

The F-15s engaged in DACT with F-5s from NAS Key West's VFC-111 Aggressor Squadron as well as F-18E Super Hornets and F/A-18 Hornets from VFA-122 and VFA-125, respectively, from NAS Lemoore, Calif.

"It's good for all of us to see how the other service operates," said Navy Lt. Brad Garms, a fleet replacement squadron instructor with the VFA-122. "Over the last few years, the Navy and Air Force have begun to standardize the operating tactical environment."

For one 60th FS pilot, the training environment struck a familiar chord. Capt. Rob Fowler was a weapons system officer in the F-15E Strike Eagle prior to becoming an F-15 pilot and completed his graduate flight about four years ago while training at NAS Key West.

"For me, I can understand (the Navy's) mentality," Captain Fowler said. "The way they approach their flights is different from how we employ."

From the planning process to tactics, the mission at NAS Key West is primarily focused on air-to-ground employment. The visiting F-15s provided bandit presentations to help the F/A-18 pilots hone air-to-air capabilities.

"All fighters can learn how we fight air to air because we're specialists at it," Captain Fowler said.

Captain Fowler said fighting dissimilar benefits the F-15 pilots, too, because they have to learn to exploit dissimilar aircraft weaknesses by learning the adversary's tactics and mindset. At Eglin AFB, F-15s usually fly against each other simulating the adversary, but here the adversary is truly dissimilar.

Not only is the adversary dissimilar, but also the operating language differs, too. The Navy and Air Force terminology gap presented challenges for each service's pilots during the briefing and debriefing phases of joint-training missions. For example, in the Air Force, pilots "step" to the jet, while Navy pilots "walk."

"We may have a different way of saying something, but the words have the same meaning," said Capt. Matt Minkley, a 60th FS pilot. Both services' pilots recognized the different terminology, but made efforts to "translate."

Maintaining the jets' flying health on a sister-service installation also required flexibility.
"The biggest challenge has been the language of the Navy," said Capt. Toby Walker of the 60th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. "Plus, the support functions differ from the Air Force."

From bringing all the necessary parts and equipment to accommodating JP-5 jet fuel instead of JP-8 jet fuel, maintainers were also learning how to operate on their own, similar to a forward-operating location in wartime.

"Because we don't have a fellow Air Force Eagle community nearby, we have to be self-sustaining," Captain Walker said.

Being self-sufficient meant ensuring all equipment was on-hand for any problem a jet encountered. Three C-17 Globemaster IIIs full of F-15C-specific parts and equipment -- equivalent to 13 semi-truck shipments -- were brought to NAS Key West from Eglin AFB by the 326th Airlift Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Del., over two days. 

Even the cargo shipment achieved training missions as two new loadmasters were certified during the trip, Captain Chennault said.

"We had a lot of different cargo they're not used to carrying, and we needed to get the cargo down here, and they needed the training," Captain Chennault said.

Ultimately, the DACT trip furthered both services' goals of combat readiness.

"Later down the road in a joint mission, knowing the capabilities we each bring, we can better tailor our mission," said Navy Lt. Dan Hannum, officer-in-charge for VFA-122.

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