April 29, 2011 (by SSgt. Amanda Savannah) - Pilots from the 8th Fighter Wing are gaining invaluable combat experience while participating in RED FLAG-Alaska now through May 14.
Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, 80th FS commander, flies over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex on April 19th, 2011 in F-16C block 40 #89-2121 during RED FLAG-Alaska at Eielson AFB. [USAF photo by SSgt. Thomas Skinkle]
RF-A is a Pacific Air Forces-directed U.S. and allied forces field training exercise that simulates air and ground combat scenarios.
"This training is critically important," said Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, 80th Fighter Squadron commander. "From back in Vietnam, we realized most of the tallies we were taking ... would occur on the first one of 10 missions for any new Airman. The RED FLAG experience is aimed at giving each new Airman that first 10-mission experience. We challenge each aviator (here) ... through many different ways. Not only through threats on the ground, but also threats in the air and every other ... threat that you can throw at them, is being thrown at them, so that experience alone is worth its weight in gold."
Capt. Ryan Wagner, 80th FS
pilot, is attending his first RF-A and also sees the importance of the training.
"(RF-A) represents real combat scenarios we really can't get elsewhere based on limitations throughout the U.S. and also over in Korea in terms of the amount of space we have available to use, the number of aircraft, the different type of aircraft and kind of how everything is integrated," Captain Wagner said. "Our normal day-to-day training is pretty specific to our airframe alone, so it's ... a little bit benign in the fact you don't see a lot of different things or different scenarios from what we see every day. Here, there's a lot more going on, there's a lot of different aircraft from different places with different fortes versus your own, so there are things we can't represent elsewhere that we get to see here."
During the exercise, the pilots use the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex to simulate air combat. The JPARC provides the RF-A training mission with more than 67,000 square miles of air space, more than 30 threat simulators, one conventional bombing range and two tactical bombing ranges containing more than 400 different types of targets.
RF-A and the JPARC provide the 80th FS "Juvats" and other exercise participants with the ability to gain confidence in their aircraft as well as themselves.
"Imagine several different forces in the area at once; as many as 50 to 60 aircraft airborne at any one time all trying to push toward one objective, and that's to destroy the target and get back home safely," Colonel Wilkerson said. "Obviously there's some 'bad guys,' on the ground and also airborne, who are trying to keep us from doing that."
Joining the 8th FW as the "good guys" for the exercise are F-15 Eagles and pilots from the 18th Wing at Kadena AB, Japan. This RED FLAG also includes F-16As and pilots from the Royal Netherlands
air force's Leeuwarden AB.
"The Dutch vipers ... brought 12 F-16s here to exercise with us, not only to gain a little bit of the international focus and how we employ together, but also to train alongside and plan alongside with our guys as well," Colonel Wilkerson said.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon Aggressors assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson AFB
, Alaska, play the "enemy" role.
To accomplish the mission, all RF-A participants must work together as a team.
"Teamwork is basically what we do up here," said Capt. Christopher Guarente, 80th FS pilot. "Teamwork is essential to the training. We're working with the (F-15) Eagles and the other F-16s up here in order to make the missions occur. From the mission planning, all the way through the execution, we're working every little detail with everybody else, it's not just us flying out there and not talking to anybody else, it's working with them the entire time."
Nearly half way through the exercise, Captain Wagner and Colonel Wilkerson are both pleased with the 80th Fighter Squadron's performance so far.
"So far, we're doing our best to 'Crush 'Em' -- that's our squadron motto and that's what we're here to do," Captain Wagner said. "It's a learning process; ... it's a good opportunity to learn and figure things out and solve the different problems that are thrown at you."
Colonel Wilkerson agreed, adding that the 80th FS is doing "very well".
"Up to this point, we've had a large amount of lessons learned, and fortunately, we're not making the same mistakes," he said. "We're able to learn from the mistakes they are making and putting them to good use. As they continue to ramp up the threat levels and the response levels, I believe the lessons we have learned will become valuable and even more of our focus as we continue to go into the RED FLAG scenarios. Crush 'em."