Military News

Thursday, June 25, 2015

F-18 Hornets at NE15: Lessons learned on how to communicate from a force multiplier

by Staff Sgt. William Banton
NE15 Joint Information Bureau Public Affairs

6/25/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Exercise Northern Edge 2015 played host to a "force multiplier" capability giving operational commanders flexibility when employing tactical aircraft in a rapidly changing battle scenario.

The F/A-18 Hornet strike fighter is according to the nation's first strike fighter, was designed for traditional strike applications such as interdiction and close air support without compromising its fighter capabilities. But how do you integrate traditional strike applications in to the Northern Edge exercise environment, which is designed to sharpen tactical combat skills, improve command, control and communication relationships, and develop joint interoperability?

"A lot of the tactics are very similar [between the services], obviously there are different capabilities on both sides but for the most part, at the base line, the tactics are relatively similar," U.S. Navy Lt. Nicholas Fritzhand, F/A-18, weapons systems officer. "It's the language we use to talk about things, which is completely different now. "

NE-15 provides a unique opportunity to increase operational knowledge of other services airframes, however, for the most part, the tactical mission sets different airframes preform are similar across all branches, he said. For example, a Navy fighter is capable of doing escorts and fleet air defense but if it was assigned an attack mission it would also be able to perform force projection, interdiction and close and deep air support.

"The learning process for us is getting there after an event," Fritzhand said. "The [mission] will take us an hour of being in the sky fighting, but we will spend four hours debriefing."

Part of this process takes place as the pilots unwind from the day's events.

"We may end (the day) drawing arrows (representing the day's events) saying 'okay when we do this the Air Force uses that kind of language,'" he said.

An advantage to a joint exercise involving approximately 200 aircraft from all service branches and units including U.S. Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, U.S. Army Pacific, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Materiel Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and U.S. Naval Reserve is the proximity to a knowledge base pilots usually don't have access to.

"Next door there is a Raptor squadron. Next to them there is an F-15 squadron. We are able to just go over there and ask these guys, 'hey, when you said that what does that mean? Would you mind coming over here and drawing us some arrows? What does your tactics involve when we set this kind of presentation,'" Fritzhand said.

These types of lessons are also carrying over to the maintainers who help keep the fighters flying.

"Not many people realize the amount of inspections and maintenance we do and the number of hours we put in," said Aviation Electrician's' Mate 3rd Class Lucas McLean.

People have spent days, if not weeks' worth of time, just to get one aircraft off the ground we don't want to put all that work to waste, he said.

"We have to exhaust every resource we have even if that means we have to go to every squadron and say 'we need this part' and if it's not available [the aircraft] is going to get bumped out,'" McLean said.

Like the pilots, a lot of the interaction and learning on how to operate within other branches environment happens after regular duty hours.

"It's great because they live a totally different life," McLean said. "It's like you're growing up and you have couple of brothers who all go different routes in life and then you get together at Christmas. Everyone wants to talk about what they do. Everyone has great stories. You get to hear about their experiences. Everyone does things slightly differently and you think your stuff is the coolest."

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