'City on the sea' guides F-16s
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- One day it's the target, the next it's the weapon. Manned with around 350 Sailors, the U.S. Navy's Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh is capable of fighting off threats in a matter of seconds. But in some cases, a few seconds isn't quite enough.
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons pushed these times to the limit as both allies and simulated adversaries during a handful of rare joint training exercises between Navy Sailors and Misawa Airmen over the past few weeks. The services executed both Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses - the primary mission of the 35th Fighter Wing's Wild Weasels -- and defensive counter-air missions, using the USS Shiloh as both a surface-to-air missile site and control station to guide F-16s.
Behind the scenes of every jet ripping through the sky stands a command and control crew, coordinating each pilot's pivotal maneuvers via radio. Here at Misawa it's the 610th Air Control Flight, a team compiled of approximately 15 Airmen that provides arguably the biggest punch of any unit on base.
"Our command and control guys tell pilots where enemies are and provide situational awareness for all missions out of Misawa," said 1st Lt. Preston Phillips, 610 ACF unit operations training and tactics officer. "And as a ground-based unit, the 610th ACF's range can become somewhat limited the farther missions move away from the Japanese mainland."
That's where the U.S. Navy and the USS Shiloh came into play.
On a month-long mission in the Northern Pacific Ocean, Capt. Jim Jones, commanding officer off the USS Shiloh, reached out to Misawa officials to employ joint training to allow Sailors to exercise the command and control role from a "city on the sea" as Phillips put it.
In return, crew members invited four Airmen to spend a couple days on the ship during one mission, getting a grasp for naval operations and aiding controllers during this atypical opportunity. Phillips said they taught Sailors Air Force radio jargon and control style, which calls for more interaction than the Navy generally uses during aircraft communication.
Lt. Bryce Miller, air operations and ballistic missile defense officer of the ship, said the Navy was really appreciative of the efforts the Air Force brought to the table.
During training missions controllers can either control "good guys" or "bad guys", referred to as blue air and red air respectively, to simulate what could happen in a war-time scenario. Working with sister services provided a front row view of assets too prevalent to go unmentioned.
"The training gave me a new perspective on the Navy," said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Warren, 35th Operational Support Squadron. "I've always known about the lethal capabilities the Navy brings to the fight, but to experience it firsthand gave a new found appreciation and respect for what they do on a daily basis."
It was a mutual feeling and bonding for both services, as several sailors, including Fireman Stephanie Morales, echoed Warren's thoughts.
"These are some of the most memorable training experiences I've had aboard the Shiloh," said Morales, who works damage control.
Warren worked alongside fellow 35 OSS intelligence analyst Tech. Sgt. Dan Roshio on the ship, and said their role was working with Navy controllers and sharing differences in operational focuses. He added the Air Force focuses on air-to-air, where the Navy focuses on missile defense and submarine warfare.
Along with knocks and bruises gathered from navigating unfamiliar, confined quarters below sea level and his maiden experience of a helicopter-over-water escort, Phillips said the experience offered enormous benefits for big picture military theaters combining forces in future operations.
"Working joint service operations increases our wartime capability," said Phillips. "The Navy and the Air Force don't always have the opportunity to train together, so taking advantage of this is huge."