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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Cope Thunder trains warfighters

August 20, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - With more than 62,000 square miles of integrated training ranges, Alaska provides the perfect backdrop for Cope Thunder 04-02, a total-force exercise which runs through Aug. 27

Staff Sgt. Corey Lobdell wipes down an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a flight at Eielson AFB, Aug. 19 during Cope Thunder 04-02. Sergeant Lobdell is a crew chief with the 34th Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

The two-and-a-half week exercise is held at Eielson Air Force Base and at nearby Elmendorf AFB.

"My main objective for this total-force exercise is to prepare air [and space] expeditionary forces for deployments and to ready our Navy counterparts for their carrier deployments," said Col. Charlie Lyon, Air Expeditionary Wing commander for the exercise.

This exercise comprises active-duty Airmen, Air Force reservists, Air National Guardsmen and U.S. Navy components.

With more than 1,300 participants, representing 18 different organizations, Cope Thunder is the largest multilateral air combat exercise in the Pacific.

Exercise scenarios are played out using "blue air" friendly forces and "red air" enemy forces. The objective is to destroy the enemy's forces.

"Mission-essential tasks include defeating enemy air forces and ground forces, minimizing blue-force losses and integrating available assets to support employment operations," Colonel Lyon said.

Mission planning takes place on the ground from here and Elmendorf with forces joining in the air and flying in a combined package.

Squadrons of F-16 Fighting Falcons flying out of here are the blue-air forces. There are four F-16 squadrons participating: the 34th Fighter Squadron from Hill AFB, Utah; the 77th FS from Shaw AFB, S.C.; the 18th FS here; and the Air National Guard's 111th FS from Ellington Field, Texas.

Navy F/A-18A Hornets from the Naval Air Reserve in New Orleans; Oceana, Va.; and Fort Worth, Texas, flying out of Elmendorf are participating as both red-air and blue-air forces.

"The F-18s will drop bombs, provide air interdiction and provide adversary support for the exercise forces," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Hanna, assistant operations officer for Cope Thunder at Elmendorf.

Joining the blue-air forces is a squadron of F-15 Eagles from the 19th FS at Elmendorf.

When fighters fly, tankers refuel. A tanker task force is here to provide aerial refueling.

"Our job is to provide aerial refueling to both the red- and blue-air forces," said Maj. Gary Nash, a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot participating in the exercise. "We will provide the refueling so squadrons can (prepare) themselves for their AEF commitments."

The tanker task force comprises KC-135s from McConnell AFB, Kan.; Sioux-Gateway Airport, Iowa; and Bangor International Airport, Maine.

Along with fighters and tankers, there is a squadron of Navy EA-6B Prowlers from Andrews AFB, Md., providing electronic warfare operations. There are also Navy E-2C Hawkeyes and E-3B Sentries from Naval Air Station Norfolk, Va.; Kadena Air Base, Japan; and Elmendorf providing Airborne and Warning Control Systems' support.

As the F-16s drop bombs over the Alaska range during the air war, it is 13th Air Support Operations Squadron Airmen from Fort Carson, Colo., calling in the targets.

"It is our job to mark targets for blue air support," said Staff Sgt. Brett Barbee, enlisted terminal attack controller. "We go out to the range, set up (about) 1.8 kilometers [1 mile] away from the targets and call in grid coordinates to the pilots so they can put bombs on target."

Along with providing pilots with the grid coordinates, the 13th ASOS Airmen use high-powered lasers and UHF radio contact with the forces in the air to direct them to the target.

"Other key objectives are to integrate combat air support, time-sensitive targeting and combat safety and rescue along with sharpening our large-force employment skills and providing timely and accurate threat replication and feedback," Colonel Lyon said.

Cope Thunder encompasses combat safety and search and rescue supported by the Alaska Air National Guard's 210th Rescue Squadron, Detachment 1, from Kulis, Alaska.

"We provide rescue alert and support for the ejection seat fighters as well as range support for the exercise," said Maj. Bill Kupchin, 210th Rescue Squadron's Det. 1 commander. "We are scheduled to participate in four search and rescue operations during the exercise."

Courtesy of Master Sgt. Terry Nelson, 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs