Friday, 05 June 2015 04:43

“Acing” ACE 15

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After two weeks of training with more than 1,500 sorties flown, the multi-national air exercise, Arctic Challenge 2015, has come to an end here June 5, 2015.  Airmen from Aviano Air Base, Italy participated in the second Arctic Challenge Exercise with nine other nations.

Exercising over the Nordic countries of Finland, Norway and Sweden, Airmen achieved interoperability success in the largest available European airspace for training.

"The biggest focus coming into this exercise was to strengthen relationships," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Montgomery, 510th Fighter Squadron commander. "It has been a success for our guys to meet, participate, plan, and fly with pilots from other countries. Debriefing lessons learned gives us the confidence that we are building a strong relationship to face whatever challenges [may arise] to ensure a safe and secure Europe as a team."

Developing readiness through this multinational large force air exercise, ACE 15, manifested NATO allies' and partners' continued commitment to international security. Although training with other units and countries is nothing new for the nations that participated, the uniqueness of this particular exercise included the number of aircraft (115, of which 90 were in the air simultaneously), size of air space (180,000 square kilometers) and the three different launching locations (Norway, Sweden and Finland).

"The exercise is unique for two reasons," said Col. Carl-Johan Edström, Sweden's Norbotten Wing exercise deputy director. "First, we had three countries planning and executing [operations] at the same time. Second, in the area where we trained, the geographical span was so large that there were no limitations in height which made it possible to train at the pinnacle of complexity."

Exercise participants conducted training that included close air support operations, air interdiction and defensive counterair scenarios.  According to Montgomery, seeing different aircraft and pilots was a good experience for learning to work cohesively.

"We learned a couple things from [this exercise]," said Montgomery. "Our pilots were able to see how other countries approach mission planning and execution. While we all have the same foundation, there are small differences in how we solve tactical problems, and this makes us all better. Our solid common foundation and how well we operated together enabled us to take aircraft from nine different countries to plan, execute and debrief a mission from three different bases. This was tremendously beneficial in showing how effectively we train for joint interoperability."

With 12 F-16 Fighting Falcon's and 150 Airmen, ACE 15 provided the opportunity to demonstrate a unified response with NATO allies and European partners in a realistic environment.

"A huge benefit of the exercise was the airspace, both the vertical and horizontal," said Montgomery. "For us to come here and fly low and with realistic threat presentations it makes it more realistic. It allows us to train better with the other aircraft and countries in a manner close to how we would in a real-world contingency."

According to Montgomery, because of its large force employment focus, an added advantage of ACE 15 training was an Aviano pilot upgrading to mission commander and several others taking the first step toward that required milestone. Pilots weren't the only exercise participants that honed their skills during the event.

"One of the great successes of this exercise has been the opportunity for all of our Airmen to integrate and build relationships with their counterparts from Sweden and the other participating countries," said Montgomery. "Our maintainers, defenders, and logisticians were all able to work extremely close with and learn from the way other air forces do business and solve problems. This reflects the team concept of how all 31st FW Airmen made this incredible tactical training possible."

The next ACE is scheduled for 2017, and according to Edström, there is hope for progress and development of this particular exercise

"I am very satisfied [with the outcome of ACE 15]," said Edstrom. "We have done almost everything we aimed for and this is preparing all participating air forces to enhance security in Europe and elsewhere in the world. It also sends a strong message to the rest of the world that three small countries up in the north can plan and execute an exercise of great complexity together. I am very proud that we are able to do this together."

6/5/2015 - KALLAX AIR BASE, Sweden -- by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

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