180FW Trains For Future Fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sarah Stalder Lundgren
  • 180th Fighter Wing Ohio Air National Guard

During this two-week long exercise, the 180FW had the opportunity to display its ability to integrate with joint and allied forces in an environment replicating today’s battle space in order to remain prepared to defend the homeland and for missions abroad.

Integrating the capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-35 Lightning II units was of particular importance to the training objective during this 4th and 5th gen, air-to-air, air-to-ground capstone style exercise.

“At home, we’ll typically train to our specific F-16 tactics. Here, we get to fly with F-35s from the U.S. Marine Corps. and the U.S. Air Force against a variety of different threats and adversaries,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Zelasko, an F-16 fighter pilot and 180th Detachment Commander. “We get to practice here and play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

As a former F-35 Fighter Pilot, Zelasko brings a unique insight on how the F-16 compliments the F-35s capabilities.

“There’s a lot of complicated mission sets that we would encounter in the real world that require an F-35s help to be successful,” said Zelasko, “but vice versa, there’s a lot of things that we bring to the fight that augment the capabilities of an F-35 as well.”

Northern Lightning provides 40,000 cubic miles of airspace and live training range to conduct missions and train in a realistic environment under realistic conditions, benefiting all participants.

“From the pilot perspective, the 180th has flown really well,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Cady, an F-16 fighter pilot and Northern Lightning exercise director. “I think they’ve had to face some really tough problems that even in the F-35, we would consider hard problems. Yet, they’ve persevered through it.”

“From a maintenance perspective,” Cady continued, “I think they’ve done really well for sortie production. We haven’t had any Toledo aircraft have to fall out.”

Keeping the F-16s mission-capable is a group effort and every member of the 180FW plays a role, explained U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Paul Stutzenstein, the maintenance project officer.

“We have specialists for each system of the jet,” Stutzenstein said. “We have engine specialists, avionics specialists, crew chiefs that handle the day to day inspections, launching and recovery. Everyone has their piece of the puzzle. It just takes all of us to meet the mission.”

Exercises like Northern Lightning help enhance readiness and overall ability to perform under pressure, especially for newer airmen.

“The importance of new airmen coming out to training exercises like this is to bond with their brothers and sisters in the unit as well as to practice what we’ve been trained to do in a combat-like setting,” explained Stutzenstein. “When we deploy to a combat zone, they’re going to be expected to perform everything they’ve been trained to do, and here, they get to practice it that way, in that type of setting.”

Northern Lightning highlighted the capabilities of the 180FW’s pilots, specialists and technicians supporting the mission, making it possible to keep the 180FW’s Fighting Falcons in the air and mission ready.

Through the collective efforts of the pilots in the air and the Airmen on the ground, the 180FW was able to fly more than 60 training sorties, with more than 85 flight hours, enhancing the 180FW’s capability to execute their mission in a joint, combat-like environment.

“Northern Lightning is the primary venue where the Air National Guard, active duty and our joint partners get this level of counter-air training,” said Cady. “If we want to be the best and be ready to win the fight, this is where we need to be.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Keller, a crew chief assigned to the Ohio Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, completes pre-flight procedures to prepare an F-16 Fighting Falcon for takeoff during Northern Lightning at Volk Field in Camp Douglas, Wis., Aug. 8, 2023. Northern Lightning is a joint training exercise, emphasizing user-defined objectives resulting in tailored, scenario-based, full spectrum, high-end training. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Sarah Stalder Lundgren)

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