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F/A-18 "Hornets" line up on the runway in preparation for take off from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar's flight line June 25. More than 20 aircraft from MCAS Yuma, Ariz., Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho and Nellis AFB, Nev., participated in the Marine Division Tactics Course and exercise Trident Warrior here.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Christine E. Polvoros

Air-to-air combat tactics tested in joint exercise

2 Jul 2010 | Staff Sgt. Christine E. Polvorosa

Vibrations rippled across the flight line as the thunderous jet engines could be heard from all over the air station.

During the month of June, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar was base to more than 20 visiting aircraft that participated in the Marine Division Tactics Course and exercise Trident Warrior.

Maj. Elika S. Bowmer, F/A-18 division head, Marine Aviation and Tactics Squadron One, MCAS Yuma, Ariz., explained this joint training between the Marine Corps and Air Force was geared toward training fleet aviators from the F/A-18 “Hornet” community and Air Intercept Controllers from Marine Air Command and Control System in becoming air-to-air combat subject matter experts.

“The exposure that is provided during MDTC will foster the refinement of [the pilots’] skills in execution and enhance their ability to teach the fleet,” said Bowmer. “The tactics being taught in the course are what we train to on a daily basis.”

The last time MDTC was conducted by MAWTS-1 was January 2004. Their intent is to provide MDTC to the fleet twice a year with Marine Aircraft Group 11 at MCAS Miramar and MAG-31 at MCAS Beaufort, S.C. There are discussions about executing the course in the future with MAG-12 at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan.

For the Air Force’s part in the course, they provided support on two different spectrums.

First, a dozen F-15 “Eagles” from the 390th Fighter Squadron, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, and the 65th Aggressor Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev., acted as adversaries and provided threat simulations during the course. This gave the students the opportunity to witness high threat profiles, medium range missile simulations and electronic attacks from aircraft carrying jammer pods.

Bowmer added, under Pacific Command, 65th AGRS provided an ample amount of adversary support with electronic attacks to test the effects on the fighters’ execution with and without Battlefield Airborne Communications Node IFDL Sub-System (BIS).

“Technology cannot solve for every single contingency during combat,” said Bowmer, who strongly believes “dog fighting,” officially labeled as air combat maneuvering, is still relevant in today’s conflict. “We must continue to train to these contingencies to ensure that no threat gets past our line of defense and influences our vital areas.”

All flights during MDTC and Trident Warrior were conducted over the water in the Warning Area 291, which allowed the pilots to get up to an approximate 100 nautical-mile intercept.

Second, four F-22 “Raptors” from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis AFB, took part in exercise Trident Warrior, a subset of MDTC, by testing the integration of BACN with fourth generation and fifth generation aircraft, the F-18 and F-22 respectively. The BIS is an airborne communications relay that extends communications ranges, bridges between radio frequencies and translates among incompatible communications systems.

“The communication systems and data links on the [F-18 and F-22] are not currently compatible,” said Lt. Col. David R. Berke, a Marine Corps F-22 exchange pilot, 422nd TES, Nellis AFB. “The BIS acts as a gateway so F-22 data can be provided to the F-18.”

In basic terms, when linked up to the BIS, both aircraft have the ability to communicate with each other and see each other’s location. The Raptor pilot can also upload a snapshot of what he sees and that information is populated on the F-18 network via Link 16, a tactical data exchange network – drastically improving Hornet pilots’ situational awareness.

“[F-18 pilots] see the threat air picture more accurately and farther away, and they also learn how integrating the strengths of both aircraft make for a very lethal combination,” said Berke, who is the only Marine Corps pilot ever to fly Raptors.

“The integration piece is vital in establishing tactics, techniques and procedures for F-18’s to eventually work with the F-35 ‘Joint Strike Fighter,’ which is a fifth generation aircraft,” said Bowmer.

“Fifth generation is a major leap in aircraft development – incorporating stealth, sensor fusion and advanced data link capability,” said Berke. “The employment of fifth generation fighters is vastly different than employment of fourth generation. However, we can expect to operate a combined fourth and fifth generation force for decades, and therefore, must develop tactics for joint employment across services and platforms.”

For Berke, learning how the aircraft and services operate together is vital because the Marines and Air Force will fight side by side in combat; therefore, the differences between the services should not hinder their ability to jointly fight a common enemy.

“The [joint] training absolutely improved the effectiveness of both fighters,” said Air Force Maj. Chris D. Gentile, F-22 Raptor project manager, 59th TES, Nellis AFB. “It’s always good to get exposure to different services’ tactics and techniques. [F-18’s and F-22’s] have never been able to interface with each other before, but now we’re able to fly the aircraft to its full potential.”

So what does the future hold for air-to-air combat?

“Our enemies are expanding their fighter forces and capability rapidly and drastically; airborne threats are real and aren’t going away. We must be able to counter potential air threats to facilitate the execution of our primary mission of supporting Marines in ground combat,” said Berke.

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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing