Monday, March 28, 2005
Holloman Hosts Squadron From England
By Miguel Navrot
Of the Journal
HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE The abandoned hangar of the 20th Fighter Squadron, where U.S. pilots recently trained German counterparts, makes an unlikely bastion of Britannia.
Inside hangs the Union Jack. Outside lurk Tornado F3 interceptor jets from the Royal Air Force. About every fellow here is referred to as "chap."
The latest British invasion has landed in southern New Mexico. In green uniforms, they are perched at Holloman Air Force Base and swarm over nearby White Sands Missile Range. They are part of one of the largest U.S. military air exercises since the end of the Cold War.
More than 10,000 U.S. and allied troops, including those from Royal Air Force No. 25 Squadron, are participating in Joint Red Flag and related exercises around the nation.
"The advantage is, clearly, working with our allies, our closest partners," said Squadron Leader Steve Savage, a Royal Air Force project officer. "... For our young pilots, this is excellent training."
The exercise, which began in mid-March and continues through early April, is headquartered at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Nellis is also hosting much of the exercise's flights, as is White Sands. Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas are also playing large roles.
All three of New Mexico's Air Force bases are involved. Cannon Air Force Base west of Clovis is hosting nearly 300 Navy aviators and crew members for 10 F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets and radar airplanes.
At Kirtland Air Force Base, abutting Albuquerque, is the center for computer simulation flights. More than 30 sites around the country are linked into Kirtland for air and ground simulations.
Holloman dispatched some of its F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighters to Nellis for the early part of the exercise. The base is also hosting a Florida-based F-15C Eagle fighter jet unit, the 60th Fighter Squadron of Eglin Air Force Base.
Allied countries involved include Canada, Germany, Kuwait, the Netherlands and, of course, United Kingdom.
"This is one of the few times to work with our coalition partners" on this scale, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James "Slammer" Murray, an exercise project officer working at Nellis. "Hopefully, we'll never have to use these skills, but we'll be ready to if we're called upon."
For participants, the exercise is about as fast and busy as real combat. Pilots and crews at Holloman are preparing for as many as three missions a day, working in 12-hour shifts.
Scenarios at White Sands, which include Army Patriot missile batteries from Fort Bliss, are taking place over a patch roughly 35 miles wide by 100 miles long.
The squadrons take turns flying as adversaries, flying as low as 500 feet off the desert floor and practicing air-to-air engagements.
"It is actually pretty realistic," said Capt. Rob "Scoff" Mitchell, 31, of the 60th Fighter Squadron. An F-15 pilot, Mitchell flew over Iraq enforcing the no-fly zone during Saddam Hussein's reign.
The temporary deployment to New Mexico offers the 60th some terrain to practice with. Based in the Florida Panhandle, pilots from the squadron said they do nearly all of their training over the Gulf of Mexico.
White Sands' rumpled mountains and ridges offer competing air crews hiding places the sort of terrain Air Force pilots may someday find themselves in for combat.
Within the exercise, officials said they aren't modeling their scenarios after any specific country or region. Many details on the exercise are classified, said Murray, just saying the fictional enemy country, Frontier Land, has "robust forces."
In addition to trying out flight tactics and formations, the groups involved are also working at making sure their electronic systems can link with other coalition forces.
"As always, you have minor technical issues," Savage said.
In previous operations, allied forces arrived together and tried linking their systems together for the first time on the battlefield. The ongoing exercise is intended to fix technical issues in a safe environment.
Holloman, which already has one of the busiest runways in the state with its stealth fighters and the German air force jets, is juggling even more aircraft with the F-15s and the British Tornadoes.
Combining operations over Nellis and White Sands, the exercise is flying about 400 sorties a day, putting this on par with the tempos of real-life combat.
Holloman's flight schedule shows the pace with U.S. and British air crews scurrying around their respective jets prior to taxiing and taking off. The whiff of jet fuel fills the air.
"It's excellent for us," said Flight Lt. Tim Jones, 31, a weapons instructor and 10-year veteran of the Royal Air Force. "Mixing with larger forces is always good."
No. 25 Squadron, which is based about 300 miles north of London, was involved in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Originally formed in 1915 in Scotland, the unit flew various missions in World War II.
Holloman's base commander, Brig. Gen. Kurt Cichowski, said he is pleased to have the visitors.
"It's truly an honor to house not only our allies but our closest friends from just across the pond," Cichowski said. "For years, our two nations have stood side-by-side in the most trying times."
STEVE SAVAGE, SQUADRON LEADER, ROYAL AIR FORCE