April 23, 2008 (by SSgt. Holly Brown) - The majority of people will never experience tearing through the skies at more than 10,000 feet in an F-16CJ while performing close air support missions precisely coordinated though several operation units.
Last week, pilots from the 77th FS
did exactly that.
More than 10 units participated in this year's Iron Thunder exercise April 14-18 here to include the 77th FS; 682nd Air Support Operations Squadron; 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron; 20th Security Forces Squadron; 100th FS, Dannelly Air National Guard Base, Ala.; 330th CTS, Warner Robins Air Force Base, Ga.; 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill AFB
, Fla.; and 108th Air Reserve Wing McGuire AFB, N.J.
"The exercise gives us an opportunity to train in scenarios that otherwise we would not see until combat," said Lt. Col. Craig Leavitt, 77th FS commander.
Although the 77th regularly trains for a variety of missions, close air support is unique because of the interacting agencies, said Capt. Lee Bryant, 77th FS pilot.
During a CAS
mission, the air support operations center links up the pilot with a joint terminal attack controller, who acts as the pilot's "eyes on-the-ground."
"The JTACs are integral to the CAS mission," Colonel Leavitt said. "Without them it would be impossible to execute the mission."
As the mission begins, the JTAC
and pilot are in constant contact over the radio verifying coordinates, land marks, positions, etc. When the enemy forces or target is visually located by the JTAC, the pilot and JTAC execute a verbal "talk-on" to verify coordination of the target.
The team has assistance from a targeting pod system on the jet, which produces a real-time image of the area. Also, for this exercise, an unmanned aerial vehicle produces a similar image. The JTAC can view both images through a rover system.
"If they can see the same picture, it makes it that much easier," Captain Bryant said. "For instance, if I'm seeing a circle of tanks on the ground, the JTAC may be seeing a convoy or a line of tanks because of the view point. With the rover system, the JTAC can see exactly what I'm seeing and match it up through landmarks to visually confirm the target."
Once the target is confirmed, the pilot chooses the ordnance to execute the mission.
"The Iron Thunder training is extremely beneficial because these are highly realistic scenarios that our guys are experiencing in the global war on terror," Captain Bryant said.
"It provides great training for all of the participating units. The fight is always going to be a joint-service effort, so being able to get across-the-board training here is fundamental in preparing us for the area of responsibility."