June 3, 2009 (by SSgt. Rachel Martinez) - Since returning from a deployment to Iraq, the 14th Fighter Squadron has spent the last three months executing a training plan to get all the pilots current and proficient in their home station mission.
USAF F-16C block 50 #90-0825 from the 14th FS taxis in after completing a mission at Misawa AB on June 1st, 2009. The 14th FS has spent the last three months rebuilding skill sets in their primary mission of air-to-air and suppression of enemy air defenses. [USAF photo by SrA. Jamal D. Sutter]
The training plan to build proficiency, also known as reconstitution, will culminate this month with the squadron's participation in exercise Northern Edge.
"For almost six months while in Iraq
we were tasked with close air support and over-watch of friendly forces," said Lt. Col. Joseph McFall, 14th Fighter Squadron operations officer. "Normally, our primary mission is force protection and suppression of enemy air defenses. We had no opportunity to train in air-to-air or SEAD while we were over there."
Pilots must maintain certain currencies to remain proficient in various missions, according to Colonel McFall. While deployed, most of those basic air-to-air and SEAD currencies lapsed. Once they returned home, members of the 14th FS
devised a plan for pilots to regain their skill level and re-familiarize themselves with the local flying area.
"We needed to be ready to go to Northern Edge, so our plan was built around that," said Colonel McFall. "We built a plan to get us proficient by the time we arrive in Alaska."
The first phase of the plan included three weeks of flying missions designed for pilots to regain the appropriate skill level in their primary mission. This also allowed the pilots to adjust to the high-gravitational demands of air-to-air combat flying.
"The first three weeks you get that feeling back," explained Colonel McFall. "We have to retrain our bodies for high-G flying. It's a lot of muscle memory."
Following the first phase, all the pilots in the 14th FS
had regained their currencies. If called upon, the squadron would be able to execute their mission, explained Colonel McFall. That didn't mean training was over. The next three months incorporated a building-block approach allowing pilots to strenghten various skills and build proficiencies.
"We had a three-month timeframe where we practiced every skill set we would need for one vs. one, two vs. one, two vs. two, and four vs. X," said Colonel McFall. "Air-to-air combat involves time-sensitive decisions and complex maneuvers and is fairly mentally taxing. It takes time and practice to get your pacing down."
With Northern Edge scheduled to begin in mid-June, the squadron is heading to Alaska early for the chance to get in some final training.
"Before the exercise officially begins, we will have approximately six days of flying where we will practice employment of live air-to-ground weapons," said Colonel McFall. "There are not suitable ranges here at home to let us drop live weapons.
"Additionally, we will be flying some air-to-air training with the Aggressor Squadron in Alaska to put the finishing touches on our reconstitution plan as we roll into the exercise. Our reconstitution phase methodically stepped us through building block skill sets that will be required to execute effectively in Northern Edge."
Northern Edge is a joint, large-force employment exercise designed to practice operations, techniques and procedures, while enhancing interoperability among the services. More than 9,000 participants and hundreds of aircraft, from all the services are involved.
"For the majority of the exercise, we will be participating in the air-to-air and force protection role," Colonel McFall said. "This is the first, big exercise since returning home. Our pilots are very excited to participate. Every good fighter pilot relishes the opportunity to fly in a scenario that tests all of the tactical skills that he or she has been practicing in day-to-day training."
Not only does Northern Edge give the 14th FS a chance to test their training plan, it will take it a step above, added Colonel McFall.
"Large force exercises like Northern Edge provide us a few benefits that we can't get here at home," said Colonel McFall. "First, we will be involved in scenarios involving up to 100 aircraft. This isn't possible with our normal flying schedule here. Second, we will get to face an extremely robust surface and air threat array on the Alaskan ranges that also isn't possible here at home. Finally, we get to employ and practice with our joint partners to hone our skills across multiple weapons systems and services. This is a great benefit."