ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Ten U.S. Air Force F-15s and more than 200 Airmen assigned to the California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing (FW) deployed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska, to support Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training with F-22s from the 3rd Wing.
The training April 11-28 included fighter integration between fourth-generation F-15 Eagles and fifth-generation F-22 Raptors. It also assessed the ability of the 144th FW, an alert-trained unit, to quickly deploy and cover the alert mission for the region.
“The goals of this mission were twofold: to validate the alert mission in order to free up Raptors’ squadrons to deploy (if needed) to PACAF (Pacific Air Forces). And also for fighter integration among our fourth-generation and fifth-generation aircraft,” said Lt. Col Jon Vanbragt, 194th Fighter Squadron commander, 144th Fighter Wing, and expeditionary detachment commander.
F-22 Raptors, which are stationed at JBER, regularly cover the Air Defense mission for the Alaska North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Region, one of the multiple regions of the NORAD Command.
“There’s a high demand for their presence in the Pacific theater, as well as in Europe,” said Vanbragt. “As a result, we want to free up those assets so that they can participate in other exercises and host other commitments in other parts of the globe. In order to do that, we need to free them from their work commitment from time to time. And so validating the alert site here in Alaska using our F-15s is paramount.”
During the training, 144th FW’s F-15s flew as both aggressors and defenders against F-22s from the 3rd Wing’s 90th and 525th fighter squadrons. They also engaged in one-versus-one dogfights, which involved one F-15 and one F-22.
“I got to fight the F 22 — a serious jet with some serious close-in maneuvering capabilities,” said Capt Charles Jaimeson, 194th Fighter Squadron pilot. “They can fight fast. They can fight slow. They have proficient, well-trained pilots up here that impressed me, but the Eagle still has some good moves that we like to show to their new guys.”
Fighter integration, where the F-22s and F-15s practice fighting together while on the same team, was a critical component of the training.
“We can carry missiles and employ air dominance firepower and integrate with the F-22 to leverage our strengths while hiding each others’ weaknesses,” said Vanbragt. “It truly brings a team concept to the air dominance war, and it gives us the opportunity, should the need arise, to be able to seamlessly integrate and project air dominance power in the future.”
Pilots from each unit gained experience from the training. F-15s represented a fourth-generation adversary for the F-22 pilots who may be accustomed to only flying against other F-22s, and the F-22s give F-15 pilots exposure to stealth capabilities.
“The most value comes from understanding what the modern battlefield looks like from a stealth perspective,” said Vanbragt. “Despite flying different platforms, it’s been an enriching experience for everyone.”
The geography of the area also contributed to the training.
”A huge advantage of this exercise, besides dissimilar training, is the huge airspace that we can exploit here in Alaska over mostly unpopulated territory and open areas,” said Jamieson. ”We’ve been able to take advantage of a full battlefield simulation to the max extent possible.”
Maintenance operations were also a highlight of the training.
“Our maintenance delivery rate was phenomenal,” said Vanbragt. “Our maintainers put in some long days and nights to ensure that the jets were ready to fly. Their work was critical, contributing to the overall success of the mission.”
Tech. Sgt. Ruperto Rivera, 144th FW Aircraft Armament Systems weapons loader, who worked on the alert site at JBER along with a local crew, described their reaction to seeing F-15s parked in the alert aircraft bays.
“Everyone knew that the F-15s had sat there beforehand but had never seen them actually sitting in the bays, so that was kind of a cool experience for us as well,” Rivera said.
Like many Airmen, Rivera was ready for whatever the conditions were.
“I knew it was going to be cold, but I didn’t realize it was going to be that cold for the first week,” he said. “After that first week, I kind of acclimated to it, and I started to get hot towards the middle of the trip. Then, I was walking around in shorts.”
The Airmen of the 144th FW demonstrated their ability to sit at the JBER alert site seamlessly and without incident, despite the cold and operating from a deployed location.
“I think that is one thing about our unit,” Rivera said. “We are able to adjust to our atmosphere and whatever we have going on.”
F-15s routinely train and fly within the Alaska region, but it’s been over a decade since F-15s have sat alert there.
In 2012, the 44th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, a deployed unit from Kadena Air Base, Japan, was the last F-15 unit to cover the alert mission there. The 19th Fighter Squadron flew F-15s and was stationed at JBER, Alaska, covering the alert mission. But after F-22s were tasked to sit alert, the 19th FS was assigned to a new location, with the last assigned F-15s leaving JBER in 2010.
The local area takes pride in their F-22s, but it’s always a nostalgic and positive experience whenever they get to see F-15s return to the Alaskan sky.