354th FW assets deploy to support COPE NORTH 2017

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

Multiple U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron took off Feb. 12 to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam in support of exercise COPE NORTH 2017.

The group of jets along with more than 120 maintainers from the 354th Maintenance Group, and pilots from the 18th AGRS and 353rd Combat Training Squadron, will lend their support by being the “Best bad guys in the world.”

“COPE NORTH is similar to RED FLAG-Alaska, but it encompasses Pacific Air Forces units that don’t participate often,” said Maj. Christopher Shawn McGoffin, the 354th Fighter Wing deputy inspector general. “It’s a localized exercise that helps with the same basic objectives we have here.”

During these exercises it is essential for coalition forces to have a formidable adversary to fly against, which is the role the Aggressors will play.

“The Aggressors are providing the adversary support just as they would during RF-A,” said McGoffin. “Since they are leading the adversary, or Red Air portion of the exercise, they will be part of every sortie flown.”

The exercise is meant to help prepare Airmen, Sailors, Marines and coalition partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region for possible contingency operations.

While it focuses on flying operations, it also gives maintainers from multiple units the opportunity to exchange best practices and work with coalition partners from across their area of responsibility.  

“These exercises are important to train combat air forces on tactics, techniques and procedures to validate the way training is conducted in their individual units,” said McGoffin. “They also expose people to large-force exercises, which include multiple platforms in a single mission fighting for the same goal; similar to a contingency operation.”

In order for the Aggressors to provide the best adversary for CN17 they must be properly maintained which presents a challenge in itself.

“A sortie of any length requires about three maintenance hours to prepare for the next mission if it comes back Code-1, which means nothing is broken,” said Master Sgt. Ian Neske, a 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron specialist section chief. “These Aggressor F-16s are the oldest in the fleet, and the aircrew puts the aircraft through a lot of stress, sometimes pulling nine G-forces.  More often than not the aircraft come back with something that requires repair.  Each problem the aircrew brings to maintenance is different and requires a different degree of skill and length of time to repair.”

Even with challenges, such as not having parts already in Guam and the temperature difference of almost 100 degrees, the 354th AMXS Airmen do what they need to overcome the obstacles and support the mission.

“The Aggressor maintenance team is made up of some of the most resilient and focused people you will ever meet,” said Neske. “Harsh weather, reduced manning, increased operations and lack of resources are problems the aircraft maintenance folks overcome on a daily basis. Their teamwork, adaptability and problem solving skills are rarely found elsewhere.”