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Cope North 16 Pacific partners sharpen air combat skills

A 44th Fighter Squadron F-15 Eagle connects to a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker for aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

A 44th Fighter Squadron F-15 Eagle connects to a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker for aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

A 44th Fighter Squadron F-15 Eagle pilot signals completion of aerial refueling from a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

A 44th Fighter Squadron F-15 Eagle pilot signals completion of aerial refueling from a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

An 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon pulls away from a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker after aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

An 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon pulls away from a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker after aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

An 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon connects to a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker for aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

An 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon connects to a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker for aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

An 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon prepares to connect to a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker for aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

An 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon prepares to connect to a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker for aerial refueling during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

Airman 1st Class Payten Olsen, 909th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

Airman 1st Class Payten Olsen, 909th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16C Fighting Falcon during the large force employment of exercise Cope North 16, Feb. 24, 2016, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Through training exercises such as CN16, the U.S., Japan and Australian air forces develop combat capabilities, enhancing air superiority, electronic warfare, air interdiction, tactical airlift and aerial refueling. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks/Released)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Pilots from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force conducted a large force employment here Feb. 18-26 as part of exercise Cope North 16.

The exercise began with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training Feb. 14, followed by an LFE exercise that shifted the focus to air-combat tactics. The LFE portion challenged large numbers of aviators, from fighter aircraft to command and control platforms, to interact effectively in realistic combat scenarios, while employing offensive and defensive counter air techniques to either gain or protect area and assets.

“(The LFE) is a great opportunity to provide a controlled environment to simulate the stressors of the first-time combat missions,” said Col. Brian Toth, CN 16’s U.S. exercise director. “We aim to present (aircrews) with more difficult problems than they may really encounter in normal operations, so they are prepared, ready and can anticipate the type of events that may occur should they ever find themselves in combat operations.”

The training scenarios start by pitting blue, or defensive forces, against red aggressors with small formations of aircraft of each participating nation working against each other in iterations of basic fighter maneuvers, or dogfight-type aerial engagements, in a dynamic exchange of techniques and procedures. Later, however, the go-to enemy, who during the exercise were the F-16 Fighting Falcons of the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, provided a realistic threat and replicated adversaries coalition pilots may face when working together.

“(During this exercise,) we integrate advanced capabilities into a realistic threat environment with a large number of adversary and friendly aircraft to really test our integration capability and be able to work as a large team effectively,” said Royal Australian Air Force Group Capt. Glen Braz, CN 16's RAAF exercise director. “The LFE is critical in maintaining regional stability and security. We build trust and relationships within the partner nations, but we also set an example of a capable force that is prepared to respond within the region.”

Pilots and crews also performed formation flights, bombing campaigns on a target locations at the Farallon de Medinilla Range and conducted a successful personnel recovery search and rescue mission to introduce another layer of complicating realism.

The combat airspace located northeast of Guam measures approximately 140 by 240 nautical miles, which offers plentiful training area over safe, open water.

“It’s great training because we are able to experience realistic, real-time operations in a large airspace,” said JASDF Capt. Kenichi Kuwauchi, CN 16 F-2 pilot, who has been selected as one of CN 16’s top performers. “We have different tactics between JASDF and U.S. Air Force, so we get to experience different ideas and learn from each other. It has been very rewarding.”

As the exercise progressed, scenarios increasingly intensified to include larger aircraft formations in the air at one time, working on the same complex scenario. In total, the pilots are expected to fly more than 750 sorties in the seven-day period.

“This has been the biggest CN ever conducted in terms of aircraft, flying units, personnel and sorties flown,” said Lt. Col. Jason Mooney, the CN 16 LFE lead planner. “There are many different aircraft and many different airmen flying based on different tactics, so you get an idea on what it may be like to fight an adversary. There is a certain level of unpredictability there.

“It’s about refining skillsets, about getting better and better at what you do every day,” Mooney continued. “It’s been a lot of work and many people have worked very hard behind the scenes to make this happen.”

In addition to the traditional air combat scenarios, a JASDF C-130 Hercules mobility aircrew joined a U.S. Air Force C-130 in a low-cost, low-altitude formation airdrop over Tinian Island, near Guam, which tested the teams’ ability to deliver supplies in hostile areas.

“It’s good that the U.S. Air Force and JASDF get to know each other’s capabilities,” Kuwauchi said. “In real contingency scenarios, we must have an understanding and knowledge of each other’s abilities and procedures. It is important to have this kind of exercise as often as possible so we can develop, build and increase our capabilities. There are language barriers for everybody, of course, but Cope North is a great environment to overcome those barriers.”

Now in its 87th iteration, the long-standing multilateral training exercise is designed to improve combat readiness and multinational interoperability among participating militaries. The event was held in Japan up to four times per year until 1999 but has since been hosted as an annual event at Andersen Air Force Base.

“We have seen long-standing military relationships between the partner nations and continue to expand those today,” Braz said. “We all have advanced capabilities and when we work together, we always enhance those capabilities for the greater good. We each have our strengths and weaknesses, but together, we’re a force that is difficult to stand up to.”