“Warhorse” trains for traditional warfare in Nevada

2 Jul 2009 | Cpl. Sean McGinty

The nation’s force in readiness is doing its best to stay trained for a more traditional war even though the Marines are participating in unconventional warfare in two theatres across the globe.

One way the Marine Corps is ensuring they are prepared for any situation is through unit “war-games,” pitting one unit’s Marines against another using  traditional methods.

Recently, the CH-53E pilots of  Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 tested their mettle against an F/A-18D from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (All-Weather) 121 over the mountains and deserts of Nevada.

“We were practicing for fixed and rotary wing threats to our helicopters,” said Capt. Brian A. Tomkins, a 31-year-old CH-53E pilot with HMH-465.  This was achieved by an F/A-18D from VMFA (AW)-121 acting as an aggressor to the CH-53Es.

“We got all the required training objectives met,” said Tomkins, an Augusta, Ga., native.  “We practiced identifying threats at different ranges, attacks from straight on, attacks from the side, attacks from the back, and finally attacks from any angle.”

Though placing a CH-53E against an F/A-18D is a bit of a mismatch, during this event the pilots learned how to defeat their attacks by taking advantage of the CH-53E’s maneuverability.

“The choppers performed very well against the jets,” said Tomkins.  “We learned that they could stay inside the F/A-18’s turns because they have to turn wider than us.”

The helicopter’s were able to simulate defensive firing at the jets with mounted XM-218 .50 caliber machine guns.  Though neither aircraft had ammunition, “kills” were simulated to keep a tally of the aircrew’s performances.

In addition, the HMH-465 pilots trained how to avoid surface-to-air threats by dodging training surface-to-air missiles, or “Smokey SAMs,” as well as how to avoid radar detection.

“Ground threat reaction is training that simulates both traditional radar-based threats as well as infrared surface-to-air missiles,” said Capt. Chris L. Phillips, a 29-year-old CH-53E pilot with HMH-465.  “We use those threats to simulate what we will possibly see in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Creech Air Force Base was able to provide a radar truck to simulate radar locks on the birds, and the choppers were also able to practice dodging the infrared based Smokey SAMs. 

One of the most important facets of dodging the missiles is the aircrew coordinating with the pilots to identify threats and provide accurate and timely guidance on how to maneuver the helicopter, said Capt. Mark A. Selak, a 26-year-old CH-53E pilot with HMH-465.

“The aircrew today performed beautifully,” said Phillips, originally from Swansboro, N.C.  “They did a great job of calling out the threats when we had them and letting us know when and where to maneuver.”