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U.S. and U.K. mobility Airmen put the “Air” in Airborne during multinational exercise

  • Published
  • By Marvin Krause
  • 43rd Airlift Group public affairs
U.S. Air Force and British Royal Air Force Mobility Airmen and 25 aircraft conducted the largest multinational Combined Joint Operational Access Exercise over the last 20 years alongside U.S. Army and British soldiers here Apr. 10 through Apr. 17.

The purpose of this exercise was to prepare United States Transportation Command units, Air Mobility Command, Royal Air Force forces and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division and British Army's 16 Air Assault Brigade to respond as part of the Global Response Force and to conduct Joint Forcible Entry operations.

The GRF is a force dedicated to maintaining the capability of deploying on short notice anywhere in the world by land, air, or sea to conduct a variety of mission sets. This force must be flexible and able to integrate Joint Operations Systems in any operating environment.

Mobility crews and aircraft air dropped approximately 4,000 paratroopers and offloaded more than 480 short tons of division readiness cargo at drop zones at Fort Bragg and the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana, during the exercise.

"The Army was very happy with our support during the exercise," said Col. Jeff Brown, air mission commander from the 317th Airlift Group, Dyess AFB, Texas. "What's key in this mission is that we dropped their real stuff--their division ready equipment for the actual GRF mission. One of our goals was to close the force in minimum time across the drop zone and the 82nd was happy with our performance," he said.

As the air mission commander, Brown led the large formation flight of U.S. Air Force and British Royal Air Force C-130J Super Hercules and U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft during several airdrops over Fort Bragg's drop zones and from here to Alexandria, Louisiana, for a JRTC airdrop.

Brown also highlighted the integration of the British C-130s into the U.S. aircraft formations.

"Working with the Brits, the goal in general was to improve allied interoperability," Brown said. "We identified equipment limitations that limit our ability to fly in formation with them in the clouds. It gets somewhat technical to explain, but let's just say our two systems are close, but they're not compatible enough to allow us to do that. Fortunately, the incompatibility is a software fix that already exists. I think the RAF will take that lesson home and soon have their C-130J aircraft updated to allow full compatibility with U.S. Air Force C-130Js," he said.

According to Air Force exercise planners, the multinational joint team successfully met nearly all of their training objectives and this exercise illustrated the critical partnership between Mobility Air Forces and the U.S. Army by exercising Joint Forcible Entry: the capability of rapidly introducing forces into hostile environments to conduct operations - whether for combat operations or humanitarian support.

"We have to think outside the box especially when you have different aircraft within the same overall formation," said Capt. J.D. Shaw, Air Force lead C-17 planner from the 8th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. "Sometimes our systems don't talk to each other which is not that abnormal so we just have to be able to solve those problems safely. The goal is to have minimum closure over the drop zone and we do these exercises to simulate real world scenarios. If we did this anywhere in the world, we always try to have minimum closure to get those troops on the ground, the equipment on the ground, so they can set up and defend or take whatever objective area they are trying to achieve," he said.

Planning the airdrop is one challenge, executing it as planned is another challenge.

"I thought it went excellent--phenomenal," said Lt. Col. Mitch Spillers, C-130 mission commander from the 39th Airlift Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas. "The weather was questionable as we started to launch and we were flying in instrument metrological conditions, using the aircraft's instruments to fly the route. As we were approaching the coast, we received a weather update allowing visual procedures for the drop. That was important because it allowed us to compress for mass on the DZ. We were able to get all of the aircraft across the DZ within approximately 9 minutes--a primary training objective.

Aircraft loadmasters and Army personnel also conducted static load training during the exercise. By interacting and working closely with their joint partners, Airmen participating in this exercise were able to develop refinements to processes and procedures that can potentially enhance their effectiveness for contingency operations.

"The static load training included loading outsized cargo and other unique equipment, 32 separate pieces in all, loaded by 75 Air Force and British loadmasters along with 200 Army personnel onto C-17 and C-130 aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Adam Scripture, a C-17 loadmaster assigned to the 43rd Operations Support Squadron, who organized the static training. This training is extremely important, as it allows the Army the opportunity to see the entire load processing sequence and be a part of it. It also allows aircrew to have familiarization training loading abnormal and outsized cargo and builds our joint relationships," he said.

"This exercise was epic because we achieved almost exactly what we set out to do across the drop zones in terms of compression of very complicated aircraft formations," Brown said. "We actually achieved it and we had to make the decision to do that while we were airborne--which we had planned for. We've made a deliberate effort over the last two years now to reenergize this capability and to build relationships with the 82nd that pays dividends," he said.

Exercise participants included U.S. Air Force and British Royal Air Force airlift aircraft units including C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. Units belonging to the 571st Contingency Response Group, Travis AFB, California, 317th Airlift Group, Dyess AFB, Texas, 62nd Airlift Wing, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, 437th Airlift Wing, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, 15th Air Wing, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, 97th Airlift Wing, Altus AFB, Oklahoma, 19th and 314th Airlift Wings, Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, 143rd Airlift Wing, Quonset Air National Guard Base, Rhode Island and the 43rd Airlift Group, Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, participated in the exercise as well.