180th Fighter Wing conducts realistic combat training in Louisiana
By Staff Sgt. Williams, 180th Fighter Wing
/ Published February 08, 2014
New Orleans, La. -- Imagine four F-16 Fighting Falcons against six F-15 Screaming Eagles. The outnumbered F-16s have a designated location to protect from the air while the F-15s come in from all angles to destroy it.
Approximately 220 Airmen from the 180th Fighter Wing deployed to Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, New Orleans, La., Jan. 13, 2014 for a two-week for a training exercise with the 159th Fighter Wing, Louisiana Air National Guard. The main purpose of this exercise is to train with dissimilar, or different airframes.
"It is complicated, yet simple at the same time," said 1st Lt. Phil Messer, a recent graduate from F-16 pilot training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. "The complicated part of this is how far do we want to venture out away from the target to identify an aircraft or employ weapons against them, which leaves ourselves vulnerable to someone coming in from the side or below." This is a challenging mission for the F-16 as it is a multi-role fighter taking on the F-15 which specializes in air-to-air missions. "Someone is always looking high and someone is always looking low," said Messer.
The F-15 is considerably larger than the F-16 and its size alone gives the F-15 superior radar and the ability to fly at higher altitudes. "They can come in at 40,000 feet, really high and really fast and it doesn't give us a lot of time to make decisions and employ weapons against them," Messer explained.
While fighter jets are known for their dog-fighting capabilities and basic fighting maneuvers, in this exercise the best defensive tactic is distance. "If we get to a point where we can actually see an Eagle or an enemy for this exercise, something has gone wrong to the point were actually risking the jet and our lives," said Messer. "We try to employ as far away as we can to push them back. That range is pretty much a defensive maneuver in and of itself."
"The training we see here is more realistic to what one would see in combat because we are fighting an aircraft that is about the size our adversaries would be," said Maj. Greg Barasch, an F-16 pilot and Project Officer for the 180th FW. "There are pros and cons to both aircraft." Despite the F-15's stronger radar, F-16s can see the Eagles from farther away than Eagles can see Falcons. The F-15 has two engines which provide more thrust power than the F-16, but the F-16s can be more maneuverable with their faster turn rate.
During exercises such as this, the attacking forces, called red air, can regenerate on-site within minutes after a simulated missile hit. The defenders, referred to as blue air, are required to fly back to base after being hit with a simulated missile. "Six red air fighters could turn into thirty or more hostile forces within a matter of half an hour," said Barasch. This allows the blue air team to gain a real-time understanding of multiple threats and readjust strategy and technologies as they would in real-world combat situations.
The Eagles and the Falcons reverse the roles of blue and red air throughout the exercise. Half of the sorties are blue, half are red for each unit.
Behind the scenes, two designated pilots from each unit act as range training officers observing the "war" in real-time God's eye view from large screens. It is their job to manage the whole exercise while it takes place. RTOs access which pilots have fired simulated missiles and the jets that will be shot down. After each sortie, the pilots can playback the God's eye view and meticulously critique each other to analyze what went wrong and what they could have done better. Each pilot can visually see what they need to improve on, similar to how a football team can review plays and evaluate to make adjustments.
Barasch explained that failure is anticipated in these types of training environments. This type of training allows the pilots to hone and maintain their skills because failing is not an option in real-world events. "The training has been invaluable and we are a better squadron," said Barasch. "We have a lot of upcoming training exercises and I know we are going to be set up for success because of all the time that went into putting this together."