By Staff Sgt. Shane Hughes, 180th Fighter Wing
/ Published March 09, 2016
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- More than 200 Airmen and 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam and participated in exercise Cope North 16, from Feb 10 through 26.
Cope North is a long-standing annual two-week exercise that includes nearly 3,000 military personnel from six different countries, including the U.S., Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the Philippines.
This exercise serves as the keystone training event between the U.S. and partner nations, which included humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, search and rescue, and large-force employment exercises to hone vital readiness skills, enhance multilateral air operations, and promote stability and security throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
"That integration piece is pivotal, because that's how we're going to go to war," said Lt. Col. Michael DiDio, the commander of the 112th EFS. "It allows us to learn the strengths and weaknesses of deploying with our coalition partners and how those cultural differences play into the tactical realm of executing missions."
The training allowed pilots to experience realistic training alongside dissimilar aircraft, including the F-15 Eagle, F-18 Hornet, EA-18G Growler, B-52 Stratofortress, KC-135 Stratotanker, E-3 Sentry and C-130 Hercules. DiDio said each of these unique aircraft bring its own set of capabilities to the fight. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each aircraft allows planners to execute mission development more effectively.
"We're flying with a variety of aircraft from all different countries, so we get to learn how each other operate," said Capt. Andrew Hauber, an F-16 pilot assigned to the 112th EFS. "Once we know how we each operate, we can integrate our forces to be more tactical. It's all one total fight and we utilize the advantages of our different aircraft to maximize our total efficiency and lethality."
"The U.S. Navy brought Growlers for electronic warfare, so I've gotten great exposure that I've never had before on how to use them to our advantage in a fight," said 1st Lt. Pete Fritz, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 112th EFS.
Maj. Brian Cherolis, an F-16 instructor pilot with the 112th EFS, said the air-to-air combat training exercises during CN16 began as 1-vs-1 and 2-vs-2 scenarios as part of a building block approach, which culminated in the large-force employment exercise. A large-force employment exercise is where pilots train in simulated combat missions with a high number of allied aircraft attacking or defending against a high number of adversary aircraft.
"As everyone gets more comfortable working together, we add more jets and more complexity to the scenarios," Cherolis said. "The elements of complexity you get from having 70 aircraft in the air are experiences you can't simulate back home. It's unmatched when you can get an exercise like this."
Maj. Curtis Voltz, a weapons officer with the 112th EFS, said the scenarios varied from defensive counter-air missions, where adversary aircraft simulated attacking the island of Guam, to simulated offensive strikes deep into adversary territory. These scenarios included air-to-air, surface-to-air and air-to-ground threats.
"Here, we're fighting in much bigger scenarios," said Maj. Brian Hoose, an F-16 instructor pilot with the 112th EFS. "You might have 30 or 40 airplanes versus 20 or more adversaries that regenerate during the fight to simulate 40 or 50 total adversaries. It gives us that big picture training we can't get in Ohio. It's much more about integration."
One of the major challenges the pilots faced during the large-force employment was the language barrier. DiDio said the language barrier was an intentional aspect specifically built into the exercise to help pilots and mission planners learn to overcome the obstacles they would face in a real-world coalition effort.
DiDio said many of the issues came from using brevity words, which are short phrases used by the pilots to communicate information in as short a span of time as possible. Additionally, the different accents made communicating a challenge over the radio.
"You have a very small timeline and you have to make quick decisions," Hauber said. "If you have to keep repeating yourself so the message gets relayed correctly, it makes you less tactical. During an exercise like this, you start to learn the language our partners speak, and now we're establishing common brevity words to communicate faster and more effectively."
Over the course of CN16, the 112th EFS flew 135 sorties and logged 238 flight hours, contributing to the ability to successfully execute world-wide deployments and coalition missions.
"We're trying to build that team focus," said Capt. Seth Murray, an F-16 pilot with the 112th EFS. "It's not just the U.S. or Korea or Japan. It's all of us coming together with our partners to defend our common interests."