EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Modern warfare is in a state of continual evolution, from how the battle is fought to the tools and equipment with which those battles are won. This is why being able to train with the most cutting edge military technology is so vital to the readiness of the force, as they learn to grapple with the nuances of 21st century combat. However, RED FLAG-Alaska provides an ideal platform for integration of joint and multinational forces to train with the latest advances so we can maintain a competitive edge, no matter how future battles are waged.
And for the first-time ever in RED FLAG-Alaska history, a joint capability was on display when the 18th Field Artillery Brigade completed a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System rapid infiltration (HIRAIN) mission in 49 minutes.
A HIMARS is a ground asset used by the Army and Marine Corps and is comprised of a truck and a multiple launch rocket system. This setup gives it the unique ability and flexibility to launch its payload at ground targets, and then quickly move to a different location, thus keeping the enemy guessing about its whereabouts.
“Over the last 30 to 40 years we as fighter pilots believed the fight we were preparing for would be air-focused,” said Lt. Col. Ronald Crabtree, the 353rd chief of weapons for RED FLAG-Alaska. “Now there’s a prevailing belief that in order for us to win today and tomorrow’s fight that we have to work across domains.”
The M142 HIMARS is an impressive system on its own, but when partnered with the Air Force’s C-17 Globemaster III as a part of RED FLAG-Alaska, the two become a precision strategic strike package with nearly limitless range.
“With the utilization of this rocket launch site, the impact area and the aircraft flying above become factors,” said Crabtree. “The coordination becomes a big deal because we’re talking about fighters, the Army and their airlift working with Donnelly training area range control.”
During the HIRAIN, two HIMARS were flown by a C-17 to Fort Greely, where they were unloaded and driven to a firing location, one of them expending their payload. After this, they were driven back onto the C-17, all while F-15s, F-16s, and E/A-18s were still fighting in the same airspace.
“In the past, from what I’m told, when the Army shoots these rockets they just clear the air entirely,” said Crabtree. “So the idea that we’re doing it during a large-force exercise with upwards of 20 to 30 aircraft in the air is a big deal. It demonstrated we are able to do it tactically and safely.”
“This was very successful from the integration piece,” said Capt. Brian Groth, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron chief of scheduling for RED FLAG-Alaska. “The escort package was able to clear an avenue for the C-17 to ingress, land, off load the HIMARS and then they provided protection overhead the whole mission. The entire time the HIMARS was on the ground firing, they were being protected by air assets overhead, even with aggressive red air the whole time.”
No one knows how wars will be fought in the future, but through joint cooperation and integration of innovative tactics, techniques and procedures, the U.S. military will remain a dominant force in the world.