Nesting in the Keys: 180FW travels for winter training

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amber Williams
  • 180th Fighter Wing
Approximately 140 180th Fighter Wing Airmen from Toledo, Ohio deployed to Naval Station Key West to conduct air combat training exercises over the Gulf of Mexico in January.

180th FW F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15 Eagles from the 159th FW, New Orleans, trained against F-5 Tigers from Fighter Squadron Composite 111, Naval Station Key West, Boca Chica Island, Florida.

During the exercise, the 180th FW participated in more than 100 sorties, providing training in Defensive Counter Air, Dissimilar Air Combat Training, and Dissimilar Basic Fighting Maneuvers. Training away from home provides an opportunity for fighter pilots to maintain readiness and expand their understanding of various airframes. The pilots also have the chance to more fully utilize the jet's speed and combat capabilities like chaffs and flares, countermeasures which confuse enemy radar and heat-seeking missiles.

"The training we can get here is more realistic because the airspace is less restrictive. For instance, here, we have the ability to go supersonic and use chaffs and flares. Whereas at home, the airspace we use for training is much more restricted," said Capt. Seth Murray, an F-16 pilot from the 180th FW.

Units from across the country come to train with the F-5 Navy detachment in Key West because it specializes in adversary training. The F-5 is a twin engine, single seat, lightweight tactical fighter that is used to emulate the capabilities of enemy aircraft.
"They can replicate a variety of different aircraft, whether it is a Mig-21 Fishbed, Mig-29 Fulcrum and so on," said Capt. Andrew Hauber, a 180th FW F-16 pilot and project officer for the exercise. "In a real-world scenario, the capabilities of the F-5 are very limited because their radar is antiquated and they cannot fire missiles. However, in a training environment they can replicate the kind of tactics we need to train with."

During the exercise, Murray had the chance to ride in the back of an F-15 to get a firsthand understanding of the different airframe capabilities.

"For starters, the F-15 is much larger than the F-16.  In the cockpit there is much more room to move around and a tennis-court-sized wingspan which provides a lot of power," said Murray. "The F-15 is hydraulically controlled whereas the F-16 is electronically controlled, which means when they pull G-Forces, the aircraft starts to shake. In contrast the F-16 is very smooth when pulling turns."

Having intimate knowledge of an aircraft's maneuvering capabilities and how they handle g-force, or the gravitational force exerted on the airframe and pilot during a turn, gives pilots an advantage when participating in adversarial training.

"The F-15s definitely have an advantage over F-16s when you are talking about employment of long range missiles and beyond-visual-range shots. They have more power and fly at higher altitude, which will give the missiles a longer range," said Hauber. "Whereas with the F-16s, our advantage is that we are smaller, harder to see and we're more maneuverable."

The pilots explained the wide variety of training missions being flown in Key West. Missions like dissimilar aircraft combat training, dissimilar basic fighting maneuvers, two-verse-two and two-verse-one scenarios, tactical intercepts, and defensive counter air are all in a day's work for them.

"In defensive counter air, there is a point, or a bull's eye, that we are defending, called blue air. The F-15s or F-5s, play the bad guys, called red air, who are about 70-80 miles away. They are trying to approach that point and it is our whole purpose to protect it," said Hauber.

To make the training more challenging, sometimes the odds are stacked against the "good guys."

"We may fly a four-ship of blue air to take on eight, or more, red air.  The red air comes in from high and then then more red air comes in low to get a target," said Murray.
After each sortie, both sides of the mission debrief together to critique everyone's performance and how they can do better.

"Every day, we switch between flying red air and blue air. When we fly red air we are providing training for the F-15s and vice versa," said Hauber.

"On red air days, we have been losing, but we are expected to lose.  On blue air days we have been winning, but we are expected it win," said Hauber. "Even as red air we have won. So we go back to debrief to figure out why the blue air lost."

Training missions like these are of the utmost importance to maintain pilot's skills. Training like this cannot take place over civilian communities like the one the 180th calls home.

"This training is very effective because the adversaries' capabilities are always increasing. With that, we need to be able to train against the highest threats out there. Though weapons and capabilities simulation of potential threats that we may encounter, we can get that type of training, which just isn't possible from fighting F-16 vs F-16 on a daily basis here in Toledo," said Hauber.
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