by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs
10/1/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- From
Sept. 14 to Sept. 25, Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 90th Fighter
Squadron duked it out with Navy Strikefighter Squadron 15 F-18 Hornets
from Naval Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia, each maneuvering to wrest as
much training experience from the other with every second of flight
The Hornets flew with JBER Raptors as part of dissimilar air-combat
training (DACT); a training operation in which fundamentally different
airframes work against and with each other, much as they would in an
actual warzone environment.
When flying against the Raptors, the Hornets were known as "red air," a
term used for the pilots simulating enemy aircraft for training
purposes, while "blue air" is used for the pilots who are the recipients
of the training.
Through this, pilots on both sides were able to gain experience with
combat operations against an enemy with different training and a
"There are different tactics for different airframes," said Navy Lt.
Michael Koch, VFA-15 pilot. "It is good to work against someone using a
different tactic and potentially a different game plan to see where your
strengths compare to theirs and your weaknesses to theirs."
With six Hornets and approximately half their maintainer squadron, the
VF-15 arrived at JBER; flying four jets in the morning, and four in the
evening with JBER Raptors over the course of two weeks, said Air Force
Capt. Brendon Boston, 3rd Operations Support Squadron pilot attached to
the 90th Fighter Squadron.
The goal of the training is to provide red air to the 90th FS, so they
can get their blue air sorties, but that doesn't mean the visiting Navy
pilots aren't benefiting from the training.
"It's awesome we are up here to get some extra flight time," Koch said.
"There's definitely stuff to be learned from seeing someone fight with
an aircraft differently than what you're used to seeing."
In addition to providing traditional red air to the 90th FS, the
visiting Navy unit assisted in designing different exercises that may
not have been previously thought of, and worked together with the
Raptors in cooperative exercises.
"In one flight, we had two Raptors and two Hornets; the Hornets were
dropping bombs on simulated targets while the Raptors protected us
against a red air force composed of two Raptors and two Hornets," Boston
Air Force pilots are required to fly a certain number of sorties a month to remain proficient.
Those sorties are scheduled to meet these requirements every month, but
sometimes, even the best planning can't circumvent circumstance.
"If we go up and it's bad weather, we don't accomplish anything
tactical, we can't actually count that as a sortie for our proficiency,"
"That's why we have the aggressor squadron at Eielson, which we use to
the maximum extent we can, but occasionally they are flying with
[another unit], are tied up in RED FLAG, and sometimes they go on
deployment or [temporary duty assignment] so we won't have them
"When this happens, we use our own jets for red air, and we can only fly
so many of those a fiscal year to count toward that monthly limit,"
Boston said. "Pretty much everyone runs out of red air about halfway
through the year."
When they begin running low on red air, the squadron reaches out to
their fellow aviators in other squadrons and branches. If they can
coordinate training with another entity, they can accomplish their
mission and earn some unique experience on the way.
While DACT can be done with Air Force pilots on both sides, - and often
is - training with members of a different branch incorporates dissimilar
mindsets, policies and procedures.
"There are some significant advantages of working with the Navy," Boston said.
"Getting exposure to the tiny differences, what their [communication] calls are, and how their procedures work on the ground.
Later on, when we do integrate, people are more used to it when it matters."
Exercises like this one wouldn't be possible without the cooperation of
hundreds of service members, both Navy and Air Force. From the
maintenance squadrons to the security forces, everyone has a role in
getting these pilots in the air.
"We fly some of the oldest operational Hornets in the Navy, so our
maintainers work extremely hard keeping our jets up," Koch said.
"They're great aircraft, but they just require a little bit more work
than our newer brethren; they do the same job any brand new Hornet
squadron can do because our maintainer squadron is that good."
The VF-15 squadron was deployed from February to November 2014, after
which they transitioned into a period of readiness, Koch said. This
means they are considered the most ready to deploy, and receive the most
funding - but that period ended in May.
"All the funds are sent toward units that are either getting ready to
deploy or are currently deployed," Koch said. "Since we are now the
furthest unit from deploying, a lot of those funds dry up. So we've got
flight hours we can use, but we don't necessarily have a lot of money
that can go elsewhere."
Because of this, the 90th FS arranged to pay for their trip so they can
get the red air they're looking for and the VF-15 can use their flight
time, showing downrange isn't the only place cooperability is key to
"You can't put a price on flight time," Koch said.