by Capt. Tania Bryan
NE15 Joint Information Bureau Public Affairs
6/29/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Over
6,000 U.S. service members and 200 aircraft from across the continental
United States and Asian-Pacific converged upon Alaska for Exercise
Northern Edge 2015, June 15-26.
Northern Edge, a biannual Pacific Command contingency exercise, seeks to
replicate the most challenging scenarios in the Pacific theater to
ensure joint U.S. forces are trained and prepared to respond to crises
in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Significantly, Exercise Northern Edge is held in a state that is as wide
as the lower 48 states and larger than Texas, California and Montana
combined. The military air, land and sea training ranges in Alaska are
collectively known as the JPARC, or Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex,
and includes 65,000 square miles of available airspace, nearly 2,500
square miles of land space and 42,000 square nautical miles of surface,
subsurface and overlying airspace in the Gulf of Alaska.
The JPARC provides for wide and varied training unmatched anywhere else in the world.
"Northern Edge airspace is unique for us in a testing environment
because it has a lot of joint players and is a large force exercise that
tests the capabilities of a dense (radio frequency) environment," said
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Adam Smith, Commander of the 85th Test and
Evaluation Squadron. This replicates a scenario we could face in a
Unique to this exercise is the ability to train in and over the Gulf of
Alaska, which allows us to work with Navy surface and subsurface assets
in a joint environment, Smith said. This, in addition to our Marine
partners and the air operations center working together, we get as close
as we can to actual combat through an exercise.
The un-encroached training space is but one benefit of Northern Edge,
another being the myriad players from different units, major commands,
and all four branches of the U.S. military.
The ability to bring the joint forces together gave us the opportunity
to have a dialogue about one another's capabilities, said U.S. Air Force
Col. Chuck Corcoran, Exercise Northern Edge Air Expeditionary Wing
commander. "We were able to plan together, which we don't get to do
very often; we were able to go out and execute together, and we were
able to come back and debrief our lessons learned together."
These elements are opportunities that joint forces don't get to regularly exercise together.
"It all starts with interoperability. On day one we saw that if we
don't practice together we won't be able to show up and execute together
as a pick-up game if we get called to respond to a contingency,"
Corcoran said. "We've got to practice integrating our systems. The
simple ability to have a (U.S. Navy) destroyer communicate with an AWACS
over the radio, it sounds easy but it takes practice, it takes
Many times when units are faced with a tactical problem in day to day
training, it is viewed only through the capabilities that that unit
brings to the table. An exercise like Northern Edge brings together all
the capabilities that the rest of the joint team has to offer.
"Now when we go back and train day in and day out at the unit level
we'll still continue to have those discussions for the next two years
until the next Northern Edge. These lessons live on." Corcoran said.
And it's the benefits of this interoperability training which makes
Exercise Northern Edge such a valuable asset to maintaining readiness in
"We have joint forces for a reason; we have experts in the land
component, air component, sea component, we have cyber experts and space
experts, warfare doesn't happen in a single domain, warfare happens
across domains," Corcoran said. "(It's the challenge of) how to bring
all of that together, in an area as vast as the Pacific ... how do we
show up with the individual components that are very competent in what
they do and bring them together to get the synergies that you have in
the joint force."
Overall, the lessons learned from Exercise Northern Edge will continue to be built upon and evolve.
We've learned some great lessons about the need to be interoperable,
about what our capabilities can and can not bring to the fight, about
new capabilities we are testing, and threat systems, Corcoran said.
And all of those are going to make a better, stronger joint force moving forward.
"What we gained is a respect for what one another brings to the fight,"
Corcoran said. "And, the respect for the fact that we aren't going to
be able to show-up, to communicate, and to operate as a joint team if we
don't practice it."