Aircrews from Ellsworth Air Force Base worked side-by-side with members of the 582nd Helicopter Group out of F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming and joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) from the England’s Royal Air Force during a joint-training exercise over the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC) in western South Dakota Dec. 4-8, 2017.
The exercise provided each unit an opportunity to integrate with Air Force Global Strike Command platforms and improve their strengths and capabilities in the field.
“It’s important that we train with other units, because it not only proves our abilities, but it shows the other squadrons what their proficiencies are,” said Staff Sgt. Travis Akerson, 37th Helicopter Squadron special missions aviator. “When we work together, it paints a picture of what we are capable of accomplishing.”
The combination of JTACs in the field created a unique opportunity for units to conduct realistic training; however, while B-1B Lancer aircrews have had extensive training with JTACs in the past, it was a rare opportunity for those in the UH-1N Huey.
“What we are training on is working with high-speed JTACs,” said 1st Lt. Jesse Togawa, 37th HS chief of plans and programming. “As a unit, we are tactically employing our aircraft in the ways that they need us to in a large-scale operation like this one. We don’t get many chances to work with JTACs, so this is a great opportunity for us.”
During the exercise, JTACs worked with aircrews from both the B-1 and the UH-1N Huey helicopter, providing them with tactical information for targets in the field.
“This is the first time we have worked with the B-1s,” Togawa said. “The training objective in this operation is how to integrate with the other airframes, especially those that are widely different from the rotary-wing aircraft. It’s important to see what would happen in a real world situation with multiple entities working together seamlessly in the field.”
The operation provided experience to Ellsworth AFB aircrew for future missions.
“This training was done because it gave us an opportunity to practice for our next deployment,” said Capt. Julien Adams, 34th Bomb Squadron weapon systems officer. “In training like this, it’s always great to have real JTACs instead of having an instructor role play as one in the field. It gave us more of a real-world feel to the training. Having actual radio communication with a guy on the ground was great.”
During the training, JTAC switched back-and-forth between different aircraft relaying targets to both of them simultaneously.
Adams explained the roles the different platforms used. While the B-1 scanned the area and neutralized larger targets, the Huey provided close air support, utilizing weapons to take on individual targets.
According to the RAF JTACs, every operation is situational. With each scenario, the JTAC may need an entirely different platform to ensure the target is destroyed, something a WSO knows all too well.
“It’s all task dependent on what’s happening on the ground,” Adams said. “This kind of exercise is definitely a viable training scenario we would like to see continued.”
These agencies expect to work together again in upcoming joint trainings.
“Being the first time we have worked with the B-1, I have to say that it was extremely successful,” Akerson said. “We built relations with the B-1s [aircrew], the British forces and special operations forces. We are going to use those relations we built to accomplish these kinds of exercises going into the future.”
Airman 1st Class Donald C. Knechtel, 28th Bomb Wing