JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
Approximately 6,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, as well as DoD civil servants and contractors. are preparing for the journey back to their respective bases and stations following participation in Exercise Northern Edge 2017 (NE17) here and at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, May 1-12.
Pilots and crew of various aircraft took part in the exercise, including F-22 Raptors, Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs, F-15C Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles, Marine Corps and Navy F/A 18E and F Super Hornets, and EA-18G Growlers working together against a role-playing aggressor squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcons. Along with the fighter jets came dozens of surveillance, maintenance and support assets and aircraft, such as in-flight refueling tanker planes, airborne early warning and control (AWACS) and Coast Guard helicopters.
Navy ships USS Hopper (DDG 70) and USS O’Kane (DDG 77), both Commander, U.S. Third Fleet Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyers based out of Pearl Harbor, HI, have been paramount to the exercise as well, providing at-sea operational implementation and support in the Gulf of Alaska. Similar to Hopper’s visit to Homer, AK, at exercise start, the O’Kane and crew will make a scheduled port visit May 13-17 in Juneau, Alaska, to conclude its participation in NE2017. Other maritime support included a Coast Guard cutter and Military Sealift Command replenishment oiler.
The fully integrated, large-scale exercise provided top-notch, realistic and comprehensive joint training opportunities in and around Alaskan land and airspace, as well as in and above the Gulf of Alaska. U.S. military personnel and their assets have participated in this exercise, under various names, during odd-numbered years since 1975. This year, NE17 participants trained on defensive counter-air, close-air support and air interdiction of maritime targets.
“The training value is extremely high, especially for young crew members,” said Air Force Lt. Gen Ken Wilsbach, Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force Commander. “If they ever have to execute this in combat they are prepared—combat situations are often easier than the training because the exercise scenarios are so difficult. When they come away from the exercise they are more capable at their job than they were when they started the exercise, and that’s the greatest value of Northern Edge.”
Environmental protection is an integral factor in planning military exercises anywhere in the world. NE17 leaders remained concentrated about the environment and took any necessary precautions to ensure the training activities have no significant impact. As with any exercise, the military is concerned about potential environmental and community effects of training activities, including how maritime actions may impact fisheries and marine mammals.
“We really tried to look to the scientists that know about sonar and other naval activities that would occur, and what those activities may do to the environment,” said Gen Wilsbach. “Their conclusion was that these activities have little to no impact on fish and marine mammals. With that in mind, we intend to go back to the [coastal] communities after the exercise is over and find out what they saw, and what we can improve on for Northern Edge ‘19.”
Along with extensive on-board marine monitoring, ship waste collection and ongoing research projects, which help inform the best available maritime and mammal science, any maritime operations are conducted with an extensive set of mitigation measures developed and authorized by a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“I’d also like to thank the citizens of Alaska,” said Gen. Wilsbach. “They allow us to come here and exercise, train, experiment and test—It’s for national defense, but Alaskans allow us to do this. I’m very thankful that we have a group of citizens that value the training that we do here and allow us to train and build skills both over land and over water.”
Major participating units this year include U.S. Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, U.S. Army Pacific, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Materiel Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and U.S. Naval Reserve.
Individual units came to the exercise from Japan, Germany, Florida, California, Washington, Nevada, Oklahoma, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas.