NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY KEDAR KARMARKAR
Who will turn down an opportunity to participate in an exercise in the beautiful islands of Hawaii, especially when it is cold in the Continental United States (CONUS)? Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam (JB-PHH) hosts the exercise Sentry Aloha in January every year and this year was no different. JB-PHH has a unique attraction, not only in the fact that there are F-22 Raptors stationed there, but also boasts about the only Air National Guard led F-22 Raptor Squadron anywhere in the United States (US). This provides an opportunity for Air National Guard units flying 4th generation aircraft from all over the CONUS to train with the F-22 Raptors in Hawaii.
The Total Force Integration (TFI) leverages Air National Guard and active duty Air Force personnel in the same units. JB-PHH houses the 154th Wing of the Hawaii National Guard which comprises of the below flying units –
- The 199th Fight Squadron ‘Mytai Fighters’ led by the Air National Guard and complemented by the 19th FS ‘Gamecocks’ active duty Air Force Squadron from the 15th Wing.
- 203rd Air Refueling Squadron flying the KC-135R Stratotankers.
- 204th Airlift Squadron flying the C-17 Globemaster III complemented by active duty Air Force 535th Airlift Squadron from the 15th Wing.
It also provides units to practice fighting over the vast expanses over the waters of the Pacific Ocean which is different compared to the training that most units have which is over land and mountainous terrain.
For the 2020-01 edition of Exercise Sentry Aloha, a couple units from other State Air National Guard participated. The 194th FS ‘Griffins’ from the 144th Fighter Wing (FW) based in Fresno; the KC-135Rs of the 126th Air Refueling Squadron, from the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, and the 18th Aggressor Squadron from the 354th Wing based in Eielson AFB in Alaska. The 199th FS provided 5th generation assets in the form of Lockheed F-22 Raptors, while the 194th FS came with their 4th generation assets in the form of Boeing F-15C Eagle fighters. The 18th Aggressor Sqn formed the threat replication bulk of adversary air forces called Red Air with their Lockheed Martin F-16C Viper fighters. In addition, the 960th and 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron (AACS) deployed with their E-3C Sentry AWACS platform from Tinker AFB, Oklahoma to direct the battle for the Blue Air forces.
Lt.Col Matthew ‘Bad’ Ohman, Exercise Director with the 154th Operations Group at JB-PHH, provided more information on the range details, “Our training airspace that we use for these exercises is 120 miles long and 70 miles wide from the surface up to 60,000 feet. We closely coordinate with the FAA to ensure our launch and recoveries go smoothly as possible – since we are launching 20+ fighters in between departures/arrivals of a major international airport with cargo and passenger flights. We also schedule the airspace with the US Navy FACSFAC – Fleet Air Control and Surveillance Facility here at Pearl Harbor.” Sentry Aloha is an exercise by the Air National Guard for the Air National Guard units. It is smaller in scale than large force exercises like Red Flag and is more focused towards the training needs for specialist Guard units which fly dedicated aircraft and its mission. For example, the 194th FS flies the F-15C Eagle that are pure-bred fighters and do not have any air-to-ground capabilities. The same can be said for the F-22 Raptors whose primary job is securing air superiority.
Providing more details on the objectives of Sentry Aloha, Lt.Col. Ohman added “Sentry Aloha is different than the other Large Force exercises in that we provide the environment to focus on primary objectives of a few units rather than the combined objectives of large units. For this exercise, we allow the weapons officers in the Squadron to define the Desired Learning Objectives (DLOs) and we work with them to fulfill the training mission. The overarching purpose of this exercise is to provide tailored cost-effective realistic combat training to the Air National Guard and our DoD counterparts and to provide the warfighter with the necessary skills in order to execute the mission successfully and effectively and come back home safely. Sentry Aloha provides unique opportunities for other units to integrate with the 5th generation F-22 Raptors that are here in JB-PHH.
The fighter integration is basically executing tactics that have been developed to use core capabilities of the 4th and 5th generation platforms synergistically in battle to achieve a successful outcome. The training for the Blue Air Control Squadrons in the E-3 Sentry AWACS platforms from Oklahoma lies in controlling the 4th and 5th generation assets in large force exercises.” Planning for such an exercise takes place early in the game and explaining the process, Lt.Col. Ohman mentioned, “It takes almost eight months of planning over three different planning cycles – initial to mid and final planning meeting. It also benefits the non-fliers, for example, the maintainer crews to operate in the tempo of the flight operations that are part of this exercise, and it also brings a lot of specialty codes together and help with the information exchange.”
Capt Benjamin “Scoff” Martin is from the 194th FS based at Fresno in California. “I am from Vermont and I have been flying in this exercise for the past three years so that has been good. Since the time I was a kid, all I remember was that I wanted to fly. Went to college, ROTC there, commissioned – transitioned from active duty to the Guard right away – due to the Total Force Composition Reduction initiative and I got picked up by the 194th FS to fly the F-15Cs. I have been flying Eagles for over three years now and have been with the Fresno Eagles for two and a half.” Sentry Aloha is special to him especially since he earned his callsign “Scoff” in the previous edition. “I got the callsign “Scoff” because it is more of a demeanor – I havent done anything really stupid or noteworthy but I think when I am looking at the board and want to focus I squint my eyes that makes an expression as if I feel you are an idiot – so it appears as if I am scoffing at the idea – and that is how I got my callsign.”
Commenting about the time it takes for them to get airborne in California and fly down to Hawaii, Capt. Martin said “Normally it takes five and a half hours for us to get here but with the tailwinds we got here in five. It will be close to six hours on the way back and we will be dragged by tankers. Mostly KC-10s from Travis AFB drag us.” For the part of coordination between their unit and the tanker guys, he added “For our planning, I delegated to our DO, who had a contact for the tanking plan – we submit a request in how many aircraft are going for the exercise, and in what configuration, since the drag is important, and then the guys add this in the computer program and it outputs a packet of products with a lot of contingencies built in. Couple of days prior we take a look at the products, the routings, tanking details etc. We do not make any changes but we make them even more refined so in the jet they are easy for us to read and decide if any big emergencies arise.” From a planning perspective, “We got back from our Theater Security Package deployment in June and I was picked up as the lead for Sentry Aloha. So, I started around August of last year to think about what we are going to do and the heavy serious planning began in October.” Planning from a maintenance aspect is a big factor.
Explaining the criteria on which air frames to deploy and which ones are in phase maintenance, Capt. Martin providing details about the process said “We pretty much brought airframes if they have the latest capabilities or what we call it ‘Golden Eagle’ and second is phase hours. Which jets have more hours before phase kicks in before they might be put to bed for six weeks. The third thing is if the airframe is Code1 – that stands for good to go. The Mx folks have a formula and tracking set up by which they plan for the exercises.”
Elaborating on his preference in being in Sentry Aloha type exercises rather than Red Flag exercises, Capt. Martin said “Our DLOs are basically air-to-air – our DLOs are not Red Flag type DLOs here – with Red flag there is a whole lot more stuff that goes on – complementary missions such as Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD/DEAD), Close Air Support (CAS) among others. For us it is basically Offensive Counter-Air/Defensive Counter-Air (OCA/DCA) – as that is the bread and butter of the Eagle. That is why I am excited to be here. It is about mission planning and fighter integration with Raptors – it is DCA/OCA with Raptors against a highly advanced threat replication brought by the Aggressors, especially with the new weapon simulations and the type of jamming they are throwing out there right now – it is the worst case scenarios in air-to-air. Sentry Aloha type exercises help us better execute in the jet with its capabilities and keeps the focus totally on OCA/DCA.”
Frequently in large force exercises, the Aggressors do not have the airframes they need to simulate mass enemy formations and, in those times, they do borrow airframes from the Blue Air. The Aggressors call them ‘augmentees’. It was no different in Sentry Aloha where some of the Blue Air forces were teamed up with the Aggressors to fight as Red Air. In fact, Capt. Martin happened to fly as Red Air a day before this interview and in describing the experience he explained “We do Red Air as well – we gave two jets to the Red Air guys. And I did fly yesterday as Red. The controlling is different, they generally use BRA format – Bearing, Range, Altitude from your own ship which is different than Bullseye – which is a particular point in space that everyone refers to on the Blue side. It is much easier with the BRA format but the huge difference is a lot less autonomy. They are very GCI-centric where the GCI tells you what to do whereas here the controller gives you input and they give you threat calls, range calls, picture calls – all the information that can help you decide the best course of action and you execute on your decision.”
Explaining how the pressure is ratcheted up during the course of the exercise, Capt. Martin provided some added insight “The exercise typically begins with missionized scenarios beginning Day-1. It involves with tensions in a fictitious country and us providing support to one of the sides in the conflict. Especially for Sentry Aloha, as I mentioned for us it is OCA/DCA – that means we need to secure enemy airspace for a strike mission or for supporting ground forces, and other times it is a defensive mission – which means that the enemy is launching air strikes in our airspace and in this case, we need to defend and maintain air supremacy over friendly airspace. And as the days roll past, some dynamism is introduced in the veil of updated intel – that they have to defend other points on the ground because of Special Forces (SF) insertion till the vulnerability times – so dynamism is added to the mission set – to which the Blue forces’ reaction is tested, challenged and outcomes examined in the debrief.” Providing more insight into the differences in fighting and flying over water compared to terrain/land, Capt. Martin said “Fighting over water is easy for us, since there are almost no places to hide for the Red Air folks so we can detect movement over a calm surface much more easily. Over land, the Red Air uses terrain masking and things are difficult for us looking down in the ground clutter. Also flying and fighting over water is a good thing in the sense the sea level is 0 feet unlike when we fight in the mountains, we might be at a height of FL200 above MSL (mean sea level), but the Sierra Nevada peaks might rise up and then the MSL does not matter and we need to watch out for AGL (above ground level). The other difference is sometimes the horizon is not differentiated enough with the clouds and the water and that sometimes leads to spatial disorientation. For us it is no factor, since we are near both mountains and the sea and we do practice flying/fighting over both.”
Shedding more light on the integration with the F-22 Raptors, Capt. Martin said – “The F-15 Eagles with all of the missiles are out in front while the 5th generation Raptor with all their stealth profile and sensor fusion are in the back – they have a much greater SA (Situation Awareness) of what is happening and especially with the timelines with which we plan our air-to-air engagements. They act as a control force if you will, and let us know when to shoot our missiles and turn around to maintain the range with the Red Air jets – or turn around and maintain the push on the targets. Working with Raptors is really cool that way. There is much technological difference that impacts capabilities of the platforms – if you consider the F-15 Eagle that was out in 1973/74 while the Raptor came out in 2003/04. It is an unbelievable aircraft and it is a great experience to train with them. My favorite call with the Raptors is when they tell us to continue cold, we will clean up the rest of the picture – it is pretty fun and they do a great job with it. With the fighter integration, it is effective in the sense we have our platform which has a great radar and acts as a missile truck out front, while behind us we have “THE” best air superiority fighter ever made.”
The exercise took place from Jan 08-22 with over 1,000 personnel taking part in the exercise. More than 35 aircraft took part from various units. Besides fighting and flying, the environment provided the ability to train, maintain, refuel and turnaround individual aircraft and direct the battle-space within the training airspace to personnel from the different Guard units that converged on JB-PHH for this exercise.
Many thanks to the 354th Wing Public Affairs, 154th Wing Public Affairs, Capt. Worden from the 18th Aggressors, Senior Airman Orlando Corpuz, Sgt. McDonald from the 154th Wing PA, and Capt. Martin from the 194th FS for their time and assistance in creating this article and facilitating the pictures taken during the exercise.