Cope North ‘16 – The Exercise

Guam, a name that symbolises World War Two and the Pacific conflict in modern history, which reverberated to the sounds of heavy bombers again the 1960’s and 70’s, with the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress launches towards Vietnam, is now a modern vibrant holiday destination where east and west collide, not surprising when you consider the islands location in the middle of the Pacific. The southernmost island in the Mariana islands, it is the largest in the whole of Micronesia with an area of 544 km square (210 square miles), It is also the home to Andersen Air Force Base (AFB), which takes up a lot of the island’s real estate. And this year was hosting Cope North for the 17th year running.

Exercise Cope North first began in 1978 at Misawa Air Base in Japan. This was as a quarterly bi-lateral exercise before it moved to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, USA, in 1999. Today it is annually held with the goal to promote security throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region by enabling regional forces to hone their vital readiness skills critical to maintaining regional stability.

Exercise Cope North is now centric to Andersen AFB. It is a coalition of Pacific Partners, this year comprising of the United States of America, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Also observing this year’s Cope North were representatives from Bangladesh, Canada, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The goal of the exercise is for the Pacific Partners train together to hone their skills, to show their cooperation and compatibility to provide Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Recovery (HA/DR) and to offer a training programme to ensure the security of Pacific Partner Nations to any adversary through air power training programmes. Cope North ’16 ran from February 10th to 26th 2016. The main operating base was Andersen AFB, plus other Marianas Islands Rota Island and Tinian. Rota Island was chosen as the scene for the Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Recovery scenario, whilst Tinian was used for survival training.

Cope North (CN) 2016 saw over 3,000 personnel and in excess of 100 aircraft from across the region participate in the exercise. The United States of America have provided the largest number of aircraft, from both the United States Air Force (USAF) and United States Navy(USN), sending some 72 fixed wing assets to participate. CN 16 is to date the largest of exercises under the Cope North banner, with more Nations and aircraft involved. It is also unique in that Andersen AFB would be opening its doors to the public on Saturday 20th mid-way through the exercise to provide static aircraft displays and fly pasts. CN ’16 is also the first time that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) would be engaging in the Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Recovery (HA/DR) operations, something the USAF welcomed. This is seen as significant in the Philippine media due to the ongoing issues in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)

Other “firsts” for this exercise is that the 353rd Combat Training Squadron would be conducting survival training for its members as well as its allies and partners. It is also the first time that a table-top exercise will be conducted prior to the HA & DR training in a bid to enhance command and control. Exercise commander for the US forces at Cope North is Colonel Brian E. Toth, who currently serves as Commander of the 354th Operations Group. Colonel Toth is a command pilot with more than 2,300 flying hours, and a combat veteran from operations such as Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, spending 175 hours in theatre. He explained the importance of an exercise such as Cope North that, ” demonstrates our commitment that we want to work – and will have to work – together as a coalition with our partner nations countries across the Pacific and across the world. It demonstrates the fact that can rely on us, and we can also rely on them in times of need should something arise and we need to work together in a crisis”

The exercise director for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) at Cope North, known to the Australians as Task Group 640.2, is Group Captain Glen Braz. Group captain Braz is also a veteran of Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, and began his front line career as an General Dynamics F-111C pilot. Group Captain Braz stated that it was “a pleasure to be here with my friends from our partner nations taking part in Cope North ’16, which represent an outstanding opportunity for the Royal Australian Air Force to integrate across multiple disciplines with our partners and with Observer Nations”. “It’s clearly a challenge across many Nations now that resources are stretched regardless of where the storm is. Australia certainly enjoys working with their partners in this region to promote that stability. Clearly we have great capability in isolation but as a team we bring much more. We can certainly add our combined strength to a team for a better outcome across the spectrum whatever function we are delivering if we, and if needs be, we can combine the two elements that you’ve seen here today. Clearly that’s going to be a difficult thing to do, but we can do that and that part of this exercise as well as seeing how those integrations work. My background is in air combat but I’m learning a great deal about Humanitarian Assistance through this exercise, that’s all part of the growing capability we share through this exercise and clearly we can do it better together.”

For the aerial exercises this year the Japanese Air Self Defense Force(JASDF) provided six Mitsubishi F-2A’s from No. 3 Hikotai based at Misawa AB, eight McDonnell Douglas F-15MJ Eagles from 306 Tactical Fighter Squadron, Komatsu, two Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes from 601 Hikotai, Misawa AB, two Lockheed C-130H Hercules from 401 Hikotai. Komaki AB, and two Boeing KC767 tankers from 404 Sqn, also from Komaki AB plus two Raytheon Hawker U-125A’s from the Air Rescue Wing, Komatsu AB. The U-125 is based on the British designed Hawker-Siddeley (BAe) 125 corporate business jet and is used for Search and Rescue; endurance is approximately 4 hours. The aircraft is fitted with a device similar to a sonar buoy dispenser for delivering a coloured dye marker to the surface of the water once a person or persons have been located in the water, this identifies the area to the SAR helicopter and means that the U-125 can move to a new area in the search for survivors. Japan’s two U-125A’s were from the Air Rescue Wing at Komatsu, Major Fukugawa, one of the Pilots of the U-125 from 41 Rescue Training Squadron, stated that Exercise Cope North offered excellent training opportunities to the JASDF with its Pacific Partners.

The Mitsubishi F-2 is a development of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Lockheed-Martin for the JASDF. The aircraft is built solely in Japan. The F-15MJ is based on the F-15C Eagle in use with the USAF. The F-15MJ is a joint Boeing-Mitsubishi project. The F-15MJ is a mid life update version of the earlier F-15J which ncludes improvements to the aircraft’s central computer, radar improvements, an electronic counter-measures system, an Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS), and new weapon systems, the F-15MJ enhancement includes a new M-Scan radar and a Link 16 datalink. F-15MJ pilot Major “JT” Ishizuya said that Japan was working well with their Pacific Partners and particularly enjoyed the opportunity to fly against the Aggressors from the United States of America. The Royal Australian Air Force provided six Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets from 6 Squadron for the exercise. Air to air refuelling for the Super Hornets was provided by the RAAF’s Airbus A330 derivative KC-30A aircraft from 33 Squadron.

After the Hornets had been flying it was observed that a member of the ground crew (LAC Daniel Skinner) appeared to be giving the aircraft canopy a “mop”, this transpired to be a static wand. The static wand is plugged into the aircraft to ground it, the “mop” end is then run over the entire canopy which removes the static electricity that builds up when the aircraft flies. Without the removal of the static electricity there is enough “kick” to fling anyone touching the canopy through the air with potentially fatal results.  This maybe the last time 6 Squadron takes part in a Cope North exercise as a fighter unit as they are soon to replace their ‘F’ models for the E/A-18G Growler, and bring a new capability to the RAAF in electronic warfare The Super Hornets often work with the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail which is now maturing in RAAF service as an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) it is hoped that these aircraft will take part in future coalition exercises in the region. Due to security concerns fighter pilots at Cope North remain anonymous, but a RAAF pilot from 6 Squadron stated that he has seen massive changes in the time that he’d been a fighter pilot (5-6 years). He had noticed improvements in the interoperability, “getting us to places like Cope North quickly and efficiently with the C-130 and the KC-30 and their ability to conduct air-to-air refuelling”. The RAAF were working well with the USAF AWAC’s that were also part of the Exercise.

The United States Air Force provided, as stated, the most aircraft for the exercise; The 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson AFB in Alaska provided some colour to the proceedings with their F-16C’s as they were all painted in differing colour schemes to represent, as their name implies, “aggressors” from hostile countries. Invariably these were the first fighters to launch on a Cope North combat mission, to wait for their ‘trade’. From Kadena AB on Okinawa, the 44th Fighter Squadron, part of the 18th Wing, travelled to Cope North with their F-15C Eagles, as did the 35th Wing with their Lockheed Martin F-16C’s with an equal mix of 13th and 14th fighter Squadron aircraft. A 13th Fighter Squadron pilot explained his pride in flying the most up to date F-16’s in the USAF inventory. “The capability of the Block 50/52 F-16 is that we can drop bombs and shoot HARM’s (Anti-Radiation Missiles), we can operate as a four, six or eight ship, we can do the Hunter Killer Mission ourselves, unlike Vietnam where you had a Hunter & Killer airframe we can essentially do both from the same airframe. But with that you need some mutual support, you need a Wingman with you as you are going to have losses. On these missions we also need escorts like the C (F-15C’s) models or the Raptors so that we’re not getting shot at. We also rely on intelligence either from the ground resources or Airborne Command and Control.”

The F-16 is still the most flexible jet in the USAF inventory by virtue of what it can do and the weapons it can carry, and will be until the advent of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning in USAF service. Six B-52H models from the 23rd Bomb Squadron 5th Bomb Wing from Minot AFB, North Dakota were present under the guise of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron. It was one of these aircraft that was deployed to Osan AB South Korea in January 2016 as a “show of strength” after the North Koreans detonated an H-bomb. The B-52’s are stationed on Guam from either Minot AFB or Barksdale AFB, Louisiana for a period of six months. The 23rd, known as the ‘Barons’ supplied two of the detached B-52’s to Cope North operations. Airborne Command and Control was provided by three USAF Boeing E-3B/C, aircraft two from Kadena (one of these was on loan from HQ’s Oklahoma) and one from Anchorage, Alaska.

Lieutenant Colonel Kyle Anderson is the Squadron Commander of the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron, USAF based at Kadena AB, Japan and the aircraft commander of aircraft 81-0004 on loan from HQ’s Wing. Lt. Col. Anderson stated that the USAF had no plans to re-engine the fleet of E-3’s. There are however plans in maturity to upgrade the electronics internally; currently the processing of data is by a machine that has a maximum capacity of just 526 Mb of RAM. With the upgrade in electronics (computing power) ,one of the crew will be made redundant. This has already entered service as the E-3G, but currently only in service at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

Lt. Col. Anderson was the detachment director, assisted by Captain John Auld for moving the two Kadena based aircraft, together with 136 personnel, to Andersen for Exercise Cope North 16. It was apparent that the crew of the E-3 had a very close working relationship, with mutual respect shown to all ranks and everyone aware of their responsibilities in a relaxed but efficient environment. Lt. Col Anderson stated that with the addition of an extra crews on board it would be possible for the aircraft to remain airborne for approximately 22 hours which would also include at least 3 air-to-air refuels. Though for Cope North a typical duration was less than four hours. The three E-3’s of the USAF were supported by the two 401 Sqn, Hikotai AB, Japanese E-2C Hawkeyes at Cope North. Modernising of the JASDF Hawkeye fleet is now well on the way with the order of the first E-2D already taken place in November 2015 in a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) worth 151 million dollars. This is part of a 25 aircraft 3.6 billion dollar order with the US Navy Air Systems Command to be complete by 2018.

Air-to-air refuelling was undertaken by two Japanese KC-767 tankers from 404 Sqn based at Komaki AB, and by six USAF KC-135’s. Two KC-135’s from the 139th ARW, Tennessee Air National Guard, two from 97th Air Mobility Wing, from Altus, Oklahoma, one from 916th Air Refuelling Wing, Seymour-Johnson AFB, North Carolina (NC) and one from 92nd ARW from Fairchild AFB, Washington State (WA). To augment forces already in the region under the theatre security package, the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is a mix of both the 112th fighter Squadron, Ohio Air National Guard (ANG) and 125th FS, Oklahoma ANG. The twelve F-16’s in this unit played their part in the Cope North exercise as part of their ongoing deployment in the Pacific. There were at least four Grumman Northrop RQ-4B present for the duration of Cope North 16. Of these one was identified as coming from the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) from Grand Forks AFB North Dakota and one from the 12th RS from Beale AFB, California. The USAF was coy on the operations undertaken by the Global Hawks, which seem to have a permanent residence at Anderson AFB, though one was displayed to the public during the open house.

The United States Navy (USN) has a presence at Andersen AFB with the Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawks from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 (HSC-25) based there. It is the only forward deployed helicopter sea combat squadron in the Pacific, and uses Andersen as its headquarters, with deployments dotted around the whole of Pacific region. Two of these helicopters were committed to Cope North operations. Adding to the electronic warfare capability to the exercise were five Grumman EA-18G Growlers from VAQ-209, normally stationed on Whidbey Island, Washington State. They located themselves on the base near to HSC-25’s hangar, which has full USN support. During the exercise period two C-2 Greyhounds from the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) were also resident outside of HSC-25’s hangar area to support the carrier which was also taking part in Cope North.
CVN-74 docked in Apra port, Guam on the Sunday evening and left port to take part in exercise Cope North on Wednesday 17th February.

Such is the size of the Naval Dockyard it was not possible to see the USS John C. Stennis from outside, proving that it is possible to “hide” 103,000 tonnes of aircraft carrier and her complement of aircraft.

Within the next two years the United State Marine Corps (USMC) from Marine Corps Base Futenma, Okinawa, Japan will be moving into purpose built accommodation at Andersen AFB. Work was in progress for the new site to the North West of the current Andersen AFB base at the time of Exercise Cope North 16 as well as on base on the eastern side with new hangarage. The move will see the Marine Corps leave Okinawa, with their MV-22B Osprey aircraft, after nearly half a century on the Island. Transport, cargo and casualty evacuation support for the HA/DR portion of Cope North was provided by three USAF 36th Airlift Squadron C-130H Hercules detached from Yokota AB. Japan. The exercise will be a swansong for the veteran H model as the parent 374th Airlift Wing is set to receive the C-130J in the near future. Joining these three transports was a RAAF 37 Squadron C-130J from Richmond, plus from the Republic of Korea, a CASA/ITPN CN.235 from the 15 Special Missions Wing. This was joined by a transport example at the end of the week.

The RAAF also provided an Aero-medical Evacuation Sqn. and a Security Force Squadron, both from RAAF Base Amberley to take full part in the HA/DR portion of Cope North.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force, were up until late in 2015 going to provide a C-130 Hercules. Unfortunately the aircraft experienced technical problems and was unable to attend. The RNZAF did thowever,  send an Aeromedical Evacuation Team.

The Philippines Air Force, did not send any assets; the personnel that did attend were Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Recovery planners. Colonel Toth hoped that for the next Cope North exercise the Philippines will join the growing number of nations to support Cope North with aviation assists but understands the costs involved explaining, ” I’m sure they’ll get the invite, and then it’s what they’re willing and able to provide. Again, the cost of having to provide that and deploy forces here for two weeks, is sometimes a burden.” The Philippines are seen as an important ally to the US, after the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in 2014 which offered the US Military the use of eight bases where it can build facilities and store equipment.

As can be seen in this article, the goals for Cope North 2016 were pretty ambitious, but with teamwork, guile and understanding the targets are met, and with this training it aids to the overall security to the region in difficult times, whether its war or natural disaster, the nations that take part feel they are ready to take on the task. This is best summed up by Colonel Toth, ” For the combat presence, coalition is the way we’re going to go ahead and end up fighting at some point, so having that ability to train together is a huge force multiplier”

With thanks to 1st Lt Christan Ornella, Captain Joel Banjo-Johnson and Captain Jessica Clark and the PAO teams for Cope North and Andersen AFB