Seikan War breaks out over Misawa
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Multiple formations of fighter jets rip through the Japanese sky at a relentless pace with a roar that's seemingly never-ending. Most of them are U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, and are accompanied by F-15s and F-2s from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. They're all here for the same reason -- all-out war.
Seikan War, an annual large force exercise, took place Feb. 26 and 27 and teamed up the aerial, lethal forces of the U.S. and Japanese militaries. Four missions were executed over two days during morning and afternoon flights featuring up to 22 aircraft competing simultaneously in two separate airspaces, one over the Sea of Japan and another over the Pacific Ocean.
"Anytime you have that many aircraft airborne at the same time in the same airspace, you're going to face many challenges," said 1st Lt. Danielle Kangas, 14th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot. "This training allows us to realistically simulate what we can expect in combat."
Kangas flew in missions both exercise days and played the role of "red air," or the enemy. With 20 jets taking off within 30 minutes, it was the most action MIsawa Air Base had seen at one time in months. It's something of controlled chaos, a true depiction of air power.
"We all had specific locations to be at when the fight started; the blue air setting up to defend their lane in defensive counter air or to push into their target area in the strike mission while the red air set up their presentations in the opposite end of the airspace," Kangas explained. "My job was to accurately execute red air tactics to challenge the blue air and bomb the target they're defending."
One of her opponents, fellow 14 FS F-16 Pilot Capt. Houston Pye, who flew "blue air" - one of the good guys defending the target area. Pye's team traveled in three waves with F-15 Eagles leading as escorts, followed by F-16s performing the Wild Weasel mission of suppressing enemy air defenses, and finally F-16s and F-2s racing through executing air interdiction.
Pye said the big challenge is keeping situational awareness while sharing the airspace with so many aircraft at once, all the while realizing what each jet has to offer.
"It's basically putting your best players forward and taking advantage of their capabilities," Pye explained, citing the differences in the jets' radar and weapon systems.
"Normally we're flying with no more than 10 total jets at once," Pye said. "But here, we had 16 versus six. It's similar to how we would operate in combat.
"If we're going to go into hostile territory, we're not going to have just a 4-ship of SEAD," Pye continued. "With our Wild Weasels, we might have up to 20 strikers or escorts on a real-world mission."
The scenarios allow no room for error, and present the perfect challenge for 35th Fighter Wing Wild Weasel pilots. Along with the frenzy of swarming fighter jets, two Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries from the JASDF's 6th Air Defense Missile Group were employed.
Surface-to-air missile suppression and destruction is the core of the Wild Weasel mission -- it's why they exist. Throwing two SAM sites into the mix topped off the full-fledged battlefield that accurately tested the pilots' capabilities.
"That's what we want as flyers," said Capt. Chris Charron, 14 FS F-16 pilot, who flew both days. "It realistically prepares us for combat contingencies and is an awesome opportunity to work bilaterally with the Japanese."
As training excels thousands of feet in the sky, every maintainer on the ground knows the jets can't fly without their hand in the deal. For Staff Sgt. Jesse Simmons, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-16 integrated avionics craftsman, the opportunity is twofold.
"It's rewarding to know the aircraft we work on go out there and defend not only the Pacific, but the entire world," said Simmons, who worked on F-16s alongside JASDF maintainer Tech. Sgt. Tomoyoshi Katsuno throughout the week. "And to have the chance to work with our JASDF counterparts works to the advantage of both sides. We're able to share our strengths with one another as well as bond together."
Maintainers prepped jets for 84 sorties that flew during the exercise, which utilized nearly half the 35 FW's F-16 fleet, according to Capt. Matt Karmondy, 35th Operations Support Squadron project officer for Seikan War. Karmondy said all the work that went into such a potent operation - such as tactical considerations, differing training rules, and breaking the language barrier - was well worth the effort.
"The Japanese are an extremely important ally in the Pacific," said Karmondy. "Strengthening our abilities both offensively and defensively in the air is huge for both Forces."