ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The exercise scenario for the final week of COPE North 2019 evolved from a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation to combat air operations after an aggressive nation downed a friendly aircraft. This brought about a combined effort from three nations and an opportunity to integrate and project air superiority to deter further aggression and when necessary, defeat the aggressors.
“The tremendous advantage to COPE North is that it brings together about 3,000 Airmen, almost 100 aircraft, 20 different units from three nations, the United States, Australia and Japan,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander. “When you look at the combat capabilities that are exercised for this event, air superiority, air interdiction, electronic warfare, tactical airlift, air refueling—all of these are critical capabilities to all of our nations to be able to deter conflict, and in the event that deterrence fails, these are war winning capabilities that will help us prevail.”
U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force), and Royal Australian air force (RAAF) airmen and assets were able to integrate and demonstrate skills to convert a contested air and ground space into one that allows for the free movement of allied assets.
“This is one of our only opportunities to train with our allies in a large exercise in the Pacific region,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Moeller, 13th Fighter Squadron Commander. “It is a unique opportunity to train with two allies that share a common goal within the region. The exercise allows us to use these forces in a very large, complex advanced threat environment.”
The 18th Aggressor Squadron, who are specially trained and dedicated to replicate air warfare tactics of the worlds most advanced enemies, provided realistic threat representation of air combat with near-peer adversaries for the high-end fight. Their presence allowed for all three nations to integrate tactics to defeat a future threat.
“I would like to say that we are doing a pretty decent job,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Darrell Cherf, 18th Aggressor Squadron academics officer. “However, the blue forces are putting up a good fight. The combined multilateral force with their command and control, escort, as well as multirole strike packages are [preventing] us from accomplishing our objectives.”
The allied forces are guided by formidable command and control platforms from all three nations. These aircraft, although different in design, all provide the same function—to gather and distribute information needed for commanders and air operators to gain and maintain absolute control of an air battle and the space in which it takes place.
“We have the incredible opportunity here to train with the JASDF and their [E-2D Hawkeyes] and controlling agencies as well as the RAAF [EA-7 Wedgetail] and their tankers, all working together towards one common goal,” said Moeller. “The most successful thing for us has been our pilots’ opportunity to integrate through the entire planning process and execution with different assets and different countries.
Seamless integration and handoff occurred among the nations, proving the ability to distribute information to allies to dominate the air battlespace over land or sea. This happens because of the incredible participation and dedication from Pacific allies.
“Koku-Jieitiai has participated in COPE North exercises in Guam since 1999, for 20 years,” said Japan Air Self-Defense Force Lt. Gen. Shigeki Muto, Air Defense Command commander. “In 20 years, considerable participation has demonstrated the Koku-Jieitiai commitment to peace and stability throughout Indo-Pacific region.”
That commitment was evident across the alliance not only during air combat sorties, but also on the ground as maintenance personnel from all nations worked together to ensure the safe and efficient operation of airframes.
“We are able to integrate across a wide range of both U.S. and Japanese assets,” said RAAF Wing Commander Pete Robinson, Commanding Officer, No. 75 Squadron. “It’s a fabulous experience for both our maintainers and aircrew to see what true large force employment looks like.”
Launching nearly 900 sorties, the multinational combined airpower was able to posture, operate and project combat air dominance out of an area of roughly five square miles, demonstrating the ability to quickly eliminate threats to peace throughout the region, maintaining stability, safety and security.
“One of the asymmetric advantages that we have is the strength of our alliances and the strength of our partnerships,” said Schneider. “So whether we are training at COPE North or different multilateral and bilateral exercises, the fact that we can come together as allies and partners to train together, to work together to improve our interoperability, all improves our readiness and lethality, which again is tremendously important as we look at our ability to deter and prevail in a time of conflict.”