JOINT PACIFIC ALASKA RANGE COMPLEX, Alaska –
High above the Gulf of Alaska and Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC), dozens of fighter jets engage in lengthy and complex joint combat missions for Northern Edge 2015.
At one precise moment, two Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets break engagement toward the welcoming sight of a KC-130J Hercules operated by Marine Air Fueling Transport Squadron (VMGR) 152 Iwakuni, Japan. In a simultaneous motion, the Hercules reel out hoses to both Super Hornets for air-to-air refueling, delivering 10,000-plus pounds of aviation fuel to extend the fighter jets' tactical operation.
The operation is one of more than 20 sorties VMGR-152 is expected to complete for Northern Edge, providing as much as 1.5 million pounds of aviation fuel delivered by its two KC-130Js participating in the two-week, biannual exercise.
"We're flying air refueling tactical missions at Northern Edge," said U.S. Marine Capt. Todd Kirkman, Hercules pilot for VMGR-152. "The [battlefield commanders] are doing a good job of simulating an operational environment out here. You can be thinking you're heading in one track and all of a sudden they say, 'Hey there's jets up North that need gas. You're going up there now.'"
Northern Edge afforded the Marine squadron to do something rarely done before - conduct aerial delivered ground refueling to a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion of Patrol Squadron (VP) 46 on King Salmon, a remote island in the Gulf of Alaska. The KC-130Js commonly deliver fuel on the ground for Marine helicopters and tactical ground vehicles as an expeditionary maneuver, but not for Navy aircraft.
"It's a new mission for the Navy. The P-3 crew were definitely excited about doing it," said Kirkman. "We were able to re-arm the P-3 with fuel and sonar buoys to enhance its range capability."
The KC-130Js completed air-to-air refueling for three F/A-18 squadrons participating in Northern Edge 2015, including Strike Fighter Squadrons (VFA) 147 and 154 of Lemoore, California and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 9 of China Lake, California. The joint exercise proved a valuable training experience for the VMGR-152 Marines as well.
"We're a support unit. Here they're running aerial battles. It's not something we get to experience very often within our small unit training. You have to keep your head on a swivel and your mind running for what's coming next," said Kirkman.
Alaska's premier joint training exercise, Northern Edge combined approximately 200 military aircraft from all services to practice operations, techniques and procedures while simultaneously enhancing interoperability within the JPARC and the Navy's Temporary Maritime Activities Area located in the Gulf of Alaska. Some 6,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units participated.