Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
A stream of legacy F/A-18 Hornets with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), tore across the sky. Their deafening roar could be heard by all within sight as the pilots dropped numerous earth-shaking MK-77 fire bombs at static targets as part of a live-fire exercise at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, April 10, 2019. This demonstration of power shows off 3rd MAW’s ability to train in order to prepare its squadrons for any future missions.
The day prior, the same Black Knight jets flew a series of strike missions into the Shore Bombardment Area on the southern tip of San Clemente Island armed with an impressive loadout of eight to ten 500-pound high explosive (HE) general purpose bombs; two AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM); two AIM-9X advanced infrared-tracking, short range multi-mission missiles; and a lightning targeting pod in addition to 500 Semi-Armor-Piercing High-Explosive Incendiary (SAPHEI) rounds. Every station designed to carry a weapon carried one, explained Lt. Col. Cedar L. Hinton, the commanding officer of VMFA-314.
“They delivered bombs on the targets they were given in one pass as a show of force. A 2-ship dropped sixteen 500-pound bombs on a single target set, while another 2-ship dropped six fire bombs on two different targets simultaneously,” added Hinton. “We did that for three waves.”
Bombs plummet into the earth and debris fills the sky, as shockwaves flourish outward into the distance, a few rare patches of flora gradually hiss and flatten in the targeted valley. Within the blink of an eye, a Hornet with the “Black Knights” appears and is gone just as fast.
While showcasing the capabilities of fixed-wing aircraft is important, ensuring the Marines train safely is the priority. This type of training is not only invaluable to the squadron, but the exercise is designed to enhance proficiency for tactical air control members as an integral component of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. In order to achieve this proficiency, Marines must place safety at the forefront at all times.
“The importance of this exercise is to help facilitate the training of junior (Forward Air Controllers) and (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) and ensure that standards are upheld of safety and conduct,” said Maj. Mike D. Sterman, the air officer with 5th Marine Regiment.
As the night came to a close, the winds continued across the hillside. With a few warming layers underneath their desert uniforms, the Marines continued to communicate through radio and exchanged precise coordinates for the next attack.
“One of my favorite parts of training is always watching coordinated attacks and seeing how Marines manage their symphony of multiple assets that are integrated,” said Sterman.
Due to the structure of the live-fire exercise, the training is effective in preparing the Marines for real scenarios in austere environments. Every single order received, every single note written down and every single drop of sweat contributes to preparing for the next time the Marines face a scenario of this nature.
“Getting the fundamentals down here allows us to adapt to what are some of the more dynamic scenarios with complex environments and multiple aircraft, all from different agencies,” said Sterman.
3rd MAW remains trained, ready, relevant and responsive to emergent requirements across the globe. This requires each and every member of the MAW to be professional warriors who can accomplish a litany of functions and tasks that ensure the aircraft operate safely.