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Tough fiscal climate slims some air training

Nov. 24, 2012 - 09:07AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 24, 2012 - 09:07AM  |  
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With the Air Force forced to find savings amid a tough fiscal climate, some units have been forced to focus on cheaper, local training to keep up to speed instead of taking part in massive exercises internationally. Several units on the East Coast have started doing this monthly with Exercise Razor Talon.

The one-day exercise, which is hosted by the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., includes about 40 aircraft and more than 100 aviators from Air Force bases across the eastern U.S. One is planned for each month of the fiscal year.

The number of airmen taking part does not include support personnel, such as maintainers and air traffic controllers.

The most recent exercise, on Nov. 16., included Air Force units from Seymour Johnson; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.; Joint Base Andrews, Md.; Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.; and MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Fighters and tankers join up for the quick training, which is designed to bring together units from across the region and help bridge the gap between fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.

Previous iterations of the exercise have included naval aviators from Oceana Naval Air Station, Va., and Marines from Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, N.C. Future exercises are planned to include the Coast Guard.

The exercises are designed to train pilots to suppress enemy air defenses and practice airborne refueling operations. For example, a recent mission included F-15C Eagles and F-22 Raptors escorting F-15E Strike Eagles and F-16 Falcons to perform strike missions off of the coast of North Carolina, while Marine EA-6B Prowlers trained for electronic suppression of enemy air defenses, 4th Fighter Wing spokesman 2nd Lt. Keavy Rake said.

"The scenarios typically entail friendly forces fighting their way into contested airspace while trying to destroy air-to-air [and] surface-to-air threats as well as planned and time sensitive targets out over the coast of North Carolina," Rake said.

Currently, the exercise largely focuses on fighters, but it also includes the tankers along with command and control aircraft and electronic attack aircraft. Future exercises could include naval surface vessels and other air and ground forces, Rake said.

Because the Air Force is forced to operate in a fiscally constrained environment, combat air forces cannot always attend large-scale exercises. Events such as Razor Talon are an alternative that can give units the tactical training necessary to stay up to speed.

"It is incumbent upon units to find ways with which to achieve similar training but in a manner which is less expensive to the U.S. taxpayer," Rake said.

Exercise Razor Talon first began in March 2011, but as a result of a planning conference in October, the Air Force decided to hold the exercise monthly.

The Air Force needs to find ways to train more and be current in "full spectrum" training as the war winds down in Afghanistan and the service's operational tempo slows, said Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, in congressional testimony last spring.

"We are proficient in the current counterinsurgency fight," Breedlove said. "We have had to put high-end full-spectrum training on the back burner, which has the greatest effect on our combat air forces."

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