Know, teach, replicate: 18th AGRS provides world-class training during DS17

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steven Doty
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

It requires remarkable skill, dedication and discipline to become a military pilot. Despite the nation’s colors that don an aircraft’s fuselage, or what service affiliation rests on the chest’s of its aircrew, a military pilot is a capable and readily accessible force for effectively responding to and neutralizing a threat of any magnitude, at any time, or any place.

However, like the students of the Royal Australian Air Force Base Air Warfare Instructors Course are learning in Exercise Diamond Shield 2017, it doesn’t come without hard work and extensive exposure to tactical exploitation by some of the most well-trained and experienced fighter combat instructors in the world; the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

“Our mission is to replicate an adversary for the RAAF pilots as part of Exercise Diamond Shield 2017,” said U.S. Air Force Major Robert “Claw” Carden, 18th Aggressor Squadron pilot. “We have the ability to replicate any adversary that the RAAF, or any nation for that matter, desires and then use specific tactics, techniques and procedures to punish ‘Blue Air’.”

‘Blue Air’ refers to friendly forces while ‘Red Air’ applies to those mimicking enemy forces. The objective of this training format is to challenge pilots to anticipate and become more receptive to real-world enemy forces they could potentially encounter during a national or international security threat.

“Primarily, we try to replicate real-world threats, be it specific to an aircraft or weaponry,” explained Carden. “Since we’re flying [F-16 Fighting Falcons], we’re not actually transforming the aircraft into a [Shenyang] J-11 or a [Mikoyan] MiG-29, for instance, so we use our [Aggressor Threat Replication Guide] in order to provide replication tactics on how we can adjust our avionics or how we might employ those avionics with our [F-16s] in order to better emulate a requested adversary.”

Although it runs only every two years, the six-month AWI course is a vital part of training for its already experienced F-18 Hornet students with Diamond Shield as one of the practical components of the course. For the Australian Defence Force, the role of the 18th Aggressors means earning graduates who are experts, capable of integration across the services and whom have technical mastery of their own roles, platforms and systems.

From the perspective of a supportive agency like RAAF 3 Squadron - who provides ‘Red Air’ augments to the 18th Aggressor Squadron - operating in this environment challenges their TTPs and provides a unique perspective on interoperability they don’t often get.

“[The 18th Aggressor Squadron] are some of the best at providing threats, threat replication and for providing the ‘Red Air’ instruction,” said Royal Australian Air Force Flying Officer Justin Nash, 3 Squadron F-18A Hornet pilot. “But the big thing for us is the different aircraft type and the different types of things they can represent. Its different from what we’re used to seeing in our normal training so [Diamond Shield] is a big favorite for [AWIC].”

So although the 18th Aggressor ‘Red Air’ pilots don’t necessarily integrate with the AWIC ‘Blue Air’ students, their unique aircraft capabilities, tactical strategies and ability to exploit plans carried out by ‘Blue Air’ provide valuable insight during mission debriefs and examples interoperability intended by both AWIC and Diamond Shield.

“We’re observing ‘Blue Air’ in either real-time or through our observations while training them and ultimately exploiting and punishing their errors in the air,” said Carden. “Later, when we debrief and reconstruct the entire mission, the RAAF pilots have the ability to find where those critical breakdowns occurred in their gameplan and hopefully next time adjusting that gameplan so those errors aren't then exploited or at least mitigated from that type of exploitation in the future.”

This very process is the foundation of Exercise Diamond Shield, and quite fundamental to the intent of the 18th Aggressor Squadron’s overall mission. Their ability to tailor and design to a joint or allied nations desired learning objective is also matched by their ability to perceive real-world events and then communicating that to their joint partners.

“The biggest lesson is the briefs and lectures on global threat situations and what they’re advertising as some of the solutions to that,” said Nash. “In the actual flying role we have as pilots, we’re seeing new tactics and seeing pictures we haven’t seen before; this too helps us devise and implement new TTPs that will be picked up by both experienced and newly arrived pilots.”

At the culmination of Diamond Shield on March 31, the key objective for the RAAF is advancing and sustaining interoperability throughout the Pacific region, while respectively, for the U.S. Air Force, it is also about increasing the capabilities of the pilots charged with providing this world class training.

“They routinely reference interoperability, making a plan that can operate a high level with any joint partner and the closer partners,” said Nash. “It is very easy to explain and bring people into the loop; it’s very robust and the 18th Aggressors support has been important for developing new TTP’s which will make it much easier to be interoperable.”

“For a number of younger pilots that have the potential to go back to the [Combat Air Force], interoperability and joint integration with our RAAF partners here will help these pilots as they go back to a ‘Blue’ unit,” said Carden. “Knowing they might have seen errors in ‘Blue’ gameplans - be it planning or execution errors - as prior adversaries, they could potentially exploit those errors so they can apply learned tactics to avoid what they saw exposed while here in the 18th Aggressor Squadron and enhance our overall Air Force capabilities.”