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Seymour Johnson aircraft participate in Northern Edge 17 in Alaska

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Laura Gauna
  • III Marine Expeditionary Force

Approximately 6,000 military members gathered together to take on the most challenging scenarios in the Pacific theater during Exercise Northern Edge 17 at the Gulf of Alaska and around central Alaska ranges May 1. 

NE17, a biennial Pacific Command contingency exercise, prepares joint U.S. forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It is designed to sharpen participants’ tactical combat skills, improve command, control and communication relationships, and to develop interoperable plans and programs across the armed forces. 

“Exercises like Northern Edge allow us to work together, talk together and fight together and it’s important to do so because that’s how we are going to deploy. No service can do it on their own,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stephen D. Driskill, the chief of staff at the Joint Electromagnetic Preparedness for Advanced Combat, U.S. Strategic Command. “We are able to gain different advantages and strengths from all the different services here; to make sure that we, as a department of defense, are able to get the best capabilities possible.”

Nearly 200 aircraft are participating to include the F-35B Lightning II, F-16C Fighting Falcon, FA-18D Hornet, EA-6B Prowler, KC-135 Stratotanker, and the KC-10 Extender aircraft.  Additionally, F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft from Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, are taking part in the exercise.

"We are constantly trying to decide what our different actors around the region are using and how we can simulate how they use those evolving technologies,” said U.S. Air Force Col. David Mineau, the 354th Fighter Wing commander. “We want to provide them with the most challenging scenario that they could face so that when they do our nation’s business they come home safely when the crisis is over.” 

Virtual forces also play a large role in the exercise. Operating from simulators in various bases throughout the nation, live, virtual and constructive (LVC) participants aim to enhance the quality of training for service members across Alaska.

“We are very proud of what the 354th Fighter Wing has done to improve our ability to fuse live training, virtual training and constructive training all together into one live-virtual battlespace that provides increased realism and complexity for everyone involved,” Mineau said. “It’s all about providing more people with more effective and more integrated training than we can do otherwise in just the live domain.”

Aside from the sheer number of people and aircraft, the terrain also provides unique training advantages. The military training ranges in Alaska are collectively known as the JPARC, or Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. It includes 65,000 square miles of airspace, nearly 2,500 square miles of land space and 42,000 square nautical miles of surface, subsurface and overlying airspace in the Gulf of Alaska.

“Alaska provides a great training opportunity because of the training ranges that are here. We get some world class training that we really can’t replicate anywhere else in the United States,” said Driskill. “The amount of range and space and the setup and the support capabilities that we have here really all combine together to make the best training opportunity to really prepare ourselves for the type of fight that we may find in a near peer-environment or in different types of environments all around the world.” 

The interoperability aspect of the training makes the exercise a valuable asset to maintaining readiness in the Pacific.

“Northern Edge gives us the opportunity to really practice the tactics, techniques and procedures that we would need in order to fight in such a vast Pacific Ocean theater,” said Driskill. “Some of the potential adversaries that are in the Pacific realm have some very capable systems. Being able to train against them really provides a high level of training for us make sure we are ready to fight tonight, wherever we need to go.”

The exercise runs until May 12.

Editor’s note: During the exercise, III Marine Expeditionary Force Marines with 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 are serving as part of the joint task force practicing tasks associated with joint operations.