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An F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 taxis on the flightline while an F/A-18 Hornet takes off during the Marine Division Tactics Course at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., June 16. This course gives pilots air-to-air combat experience and the tools to train Marines in their squadrons on the latest tactics. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Kimberlyn Adams/Released)

Photo by Sgt. Kimberlyn Adams

Marine Division Tactics Course: to win, to kill, to survive

21 Jun 2017 | Sgt. Kimberlyn Adams 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Marines with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing tested their combat skills during Marine Division Tactics Course (MDTC) at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, May 22 through June 16, 2017.

The course, conducted by Marine Aviation Weapon and Tactics Squadron (MAWTS) 1, is designed to give pilots air-to-air combat experience and the tools to train Marines in their squadrons on the latest tactics.

“In a lot of ways, this is the most advanced, complex, and challenging training that we do,” said Col. Jim Wellons, commanding officer of MAWTS-1. “We can operate in a force-on-force scenario and employ our weapons in the same way we would in the real world. The missile doesn’t actually come off the rail but the pilots are able to see, based on their location and the location of the threat aircraft, if it would have been a successful engagement.”

According to Maj. Thomas Lee, the F/A-18 Hornet division head at MAWTS-1, MDTC is held twice a year.

“Typically, the course is held at MCAS Miramar in the summer and MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, in the winter,” stated Lee. “The course is an air-to-air specific course for the F/A-18 community to train individuals in advance tactics and to prepare them for the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course.”

WTI is a seven weeklong training evolution hosted by MAWTS-1 at MCAS Yuma, Arizona, which provides standardized, advanced, and tactical training for Marines throughout the Marine Corps.

“This course is a prerequisite for the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course,” said Maj. Jesus Chapa, the director of safety and standardization for Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA(AW)) 225. “Once the pilot has gone through this course, the Marine comes back to the squadron to become a training officer. Their job will be to ensure the squadron is getting the latest and greatest in tactics and is upholding the standard.”

The course is four weeks long, added Lee. The first week is specifically academics. Then, the rest of the course is split into phases.

“The second week is primarily sections phase where they are executing tactics with two aircraft,” said Lee. “The last two weeks are the division phase, which is devoted to air interdiction, finding their way through enemy defenses and active air defense.”

There is also a command and control aspect to the course, explained Lee.

“We couldn’t execute these missions without the command and control aspect so we have an [Air Intercept Control] who is currently in the class and they communicate with the pilots while airborne,” said Lee.

During this course, MAWTS-1 teamed up with Marine Fighter Training Squadron (VMFT) 401, the only Marine Corps adversary squadron. The mission of VMFT-401 is to improve air-to-air combat readiness by employing current simulated threat tactics against Marine pilots.

“This is the second course where we have been able to combine the syllabus with the F-5N Tiger II adversary instructors who can maintain the standard for adversary presentation,” said Lee.

According to Chapa, this course is important to the overall mission of the Marine Corps.

“When you are operating as a fighter pilot against another fighter pilot, both of those entities have a desire to win, to kill, and to survive,” stated Wellons. “It’s a very challenging scenario because as fighter pilots going through MDTC, they are flying against a living, breathing, thinking adversary who is representing the types of threats we might face in the next fight.”

“It makes the Marines and the squadron better so the F/A-18 can be employed correctly which in turn helps accomplish the mission of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF),” said Chapa.

Participating in intense, high-quality training against the best adversaries we can possibly have has tremendous value for us as a MAGTF, added Wellons.

A MAGTF off the coast of a given location has a mission to go in and put Marines on the ground in support of a combatant commander’s objective, Wellons elaborated.

“Those Marines are going to need to operate with the assumption that the air is clear of threat aircraft,” said Wellons. “What we are teaching at MDTC is the tools that are necessary to make sure those Marines on the ground don’t have to be concerned about an air threat that might otherwise impede their ability to accomplish the mission.”

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