Capt. Patrick Mount, an HH-60 Pave Hawk pilot with the 55th Rescue Squadron, conducts a pre-flight check May 13 during Angel Thunder. (Tech. Sgt. Bradley C. Church/Air Force)
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A year after the budget chaos in Washington forced Air Force leaders to cancel major exercises and ground combat squadrons, hundreds of airmen and dozens of aircraft participated in concurrent, large-scale exercises this month.
■Red Flag-Alaska for air-to-air fighter training;
■Green Flag-West for air-to-ground bomber training;
■Global Lightning for strategic bomber flights;
■Emerald Warrior for special operations; and
■Angel Thunder for rescue crews.
“The number one takeaway, and I see this every day on an individual, a crew and a unit basis, is we are creating scenarios and training search and rescue crews on what they could face tomorrow anywhere in the world,” said Col. Sean Choquette, commander of the 563rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and director of Angel Thunder. “It is critically important that we allow them to see that the first time in training scenario and not in the real world.”
The multiple exercises reinforces Air Force leaders’ pledge to put resources back into readiness and training to recover from last year’s setback.
In seven years, Angel Thunder has transformed from a local, base-only exercise at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, into the world’s largest search and rescue exercise, covering much of the Southwest, from the waters off San Diego to the Arizona desert. This year, more than 1,200 troops participated from the Air Force and Navy and crews and aircraft from Colombia, France, Germany, Sweden and Canada, said Lt. Col Peter White, the deputy commander of the exercise.
The Air Force contingent included HH-60s and MC-130s from Davis-Monthan, along with RC-135s and E-3 Sentrys providing command and control for search and rescue crews. The U.S. Navy’s Carl Vincent carrier strike group from San Diego flew F/A-18s, E-2 Hawkeyes and SH-60 Seahawks.
Officials at Davis-Monthan spent almost a year coming up with the training scenarios. This year’s focus was on missions in the Asia-Pacific. Search and rescue crews at the base last month were told to prepare for a water rescue of injured patients at sea, a scenario that came true before the exercise began with the rescue of injured Chinese sailors off the coast of Mexico earlier this month.
The two-week exercise, which kicked off on May 4, ramped up from permissive search and rescue scenarios, such as responding to a hypothetical natural disaster, to large-scale rescue missions from behind hypothetical enemy lines in a contested environment, White said.
“Personnel recovery is a combat air forces and a joint problem, and this is the only venue where we bring the joint forces to concentrate on [rescue training],” Choquette said. “We build the team, we learn the personalities and the personnel, and we learn each others’ capabilities.”
Red and Green Flags
Air Force F-15s, F-16s, F-22s, KC-135s and E-3s are training alongside Navy EA-6B Growlers and jets from the Singapore Air Force as part of Red Flag-Alaska, which is running until May 23 at Eielson Air Force Base.
The two-week exercise, one of four scheduled each year at Eielson, focuses on air-to-air and air-to-ground training with allied countries at the large training area near the base.
The Air Force’s bomber crews got their opportunity train in air-to-ground missions for two weeks at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, as part of Green Flag-West.
The second Green Flag-West exercise of the year took place April 18 to May 2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and featured bombers practicing close air support. B-1B Lancers from the 9th Bomb Squadron and airmen from the 7th Maintenance Group at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, participated in the exercise, flying 42 training sorties to assist in joint combat training at National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.
More than 1,500 special operations forces, including Air Force combat controllers, tactical air control party airmen, CV-22 Osprey crews and, for the first time, MQ-9 Reapers trained alongside Army, Navy and Marine special operators for the two-week long Emerald Warrior exercise at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
The exercise, which took place from April 28 to May 9, focused on tactical airlift, fire support and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection, with both 90 aircraft and 17 “virtual aircraft players,” according to Air Force Special Operations Command.
Bombers in Air Force Global Strike Command on May 16 wrapped up the largest exercise for U.S. Strategic Command, flying sorties “designed to test and validate command and control procedures.” However, STRATCOM is being tight-lipped about this exercise, called Global Lightning 14.
“As a matter of policy, USSTRATCOM does not disclose the details of specific operations or exercises,” STRATCOM spokeswoman Lt. Col. Stephanie Bounds said. The exercise is not in response to any real-world events, however.
While Strategic Command is silent on what this iteration entails, previous exercises give a hint at the bombers’ mission. In 2012, Global Lightning coincided with a Pacific Command exercise, Terminal Fury, and evaluated how bombers could provide “global air power for extremely difficult target sets” in the Asia-Pacific, according to a release on the event from the 102nd Air Operations Group.
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