A U.S. Air Force maintainer assigned to the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepares a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron for takeoff during exercise Cope North 21 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 17, 2021. Exercises such as Cope North allow the Pacific Air Forces to validate new ways to deploy and maneuver assets through exercises and engagements. (Photo by Senior Airman Duncan Bevan)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- More than 230 Airmen and 15 F-16’s from the 35th Fighter Wing forward deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as the lead wing for Cope North 21 (CN21), Feb. 3-19.
CN21 is an annual exercise that serves as a keystone event enhancing United States, Australian and Japanese forces relations, ultimately promoting stability and security throughout the Indo-Pacific.
Established in 1978 as a quarterly bilateral exercise held at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Cope North moved to Andersen AFB in 1999. The U.S. Pacific Air Forces’ largest multilateral exercise continued to evolve throughout the years.
“We have ten tri-lateral goals that we are aiming to achieve during Exercise Cope North 2021,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jared Hutchinson, CN21 exercise director. “The overarching goal is to advance the readiness and interoperability of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and United States Air Force by planning and executing safe and effective Combat Air Force Large Force Employment operations, as well as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response operations.”
Hutchinson continued saying that a critical objective of CN21 was to successfully execute Agile Combat Employment (ACE) operations at austere locations. The 13th Fighter Squadron successfully conducted six ACE missions to Northwest Field, Guam, and was the first fighter aircraft unit to land at this airfield since World War II.
Northwest Field is an austere airfield carved out of jungle terrain on the northwest side of Andersen AFB. It is just under 8000 feet of land, with some ramp space, taxiways and some hangar capacity. It has minimal markings, minimal lighting, and no permanent aircraft or airfield control.
ACE training is a key component of CN21 and aims to give U.S. Airmen and Koku-Jieitai partners the knowledge and skills to hot pit refuel a jet in an austere environment. This is a new warfighting concept that Pacific Air Forces is operationalizing to ensure agility, deterrence, and resiliency in a contested or degraded environment during times of crisis or disaster response.
During the ACE portion, the 13th FS pilots flew aggressor red air sorties, and then landed at Northwest Field. They worked with the Andersen Contingency Response Squadron to quickly park the jets, land a C-130J Super Hercules behind them, and then refuel the F-16 from a fuel bladder on the C-130J. Once they were refueled, they took back off and returned to Andersen, testing their ability to land, refuel, and re-launch aircraft quickly from an austere field.
“We were able to land, refuel, and re-launch in about 2.5-3 hours,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jonathan Cichowski, the 13th FS commander. “We flew a total of six sorties like this and the F-35s were the only other fighters to participate in the ACE operation at Northwest Field.”
While Northwest Field seems less than ideal to operate out of, it is the perfect location to practice ACE. Incorporating ACE into Cope North allows Airmen to apply the concepts they have been training for in an actual austere location rather than a simulated one at home station.
“We are still testing the envelope of what is and isn’t possible for ACE, particularly when it comes to unprepared fields,” said Cichowski. “It’s been a theoretical concept for some time, that we would fly into unprepared territory and rapidly refuel and rearm aircraft to return to the fight.”
The total of 252 sorties flown over the course of the exercise would not have been possible without the 35th Maintenance Group Airmen. They generated a jet for every sortie, and every subsequent sortie was flown by the 13th FS.
“The 35th Fighter Wing is the ‘lead wing’ for this exercise, and it shows,” exclaimed Cichowski. “We’re leading the exercise in sorties produced, hours flown, and aircraft fixed. Our operations, maintenance, and production Airmen teamed together flawlessly allowing us to execute every scheduled sortie. I think our combined team is doing a great job showcasing the high level of readiness that Misawa is always striving to maintain.”