Target confirmed: precision munitions training comes to Misawa
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Editor's Note: The name of the joint terminal attack controller, or JTAC, has been left out of the article for security purposes.
Standing outside the seventh story of the Draughon Range control tower, a JTAC braces himself against the fierce, winter wind, his feet planted firmly on the grated ledge. The sound of unique jargon communicating 9-line permissions crackles through his radio. Quickly, he provides altitude and elevation calculations to an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot flying overhead as they work together to confirm their target.
As soon as the pilot has eyes on the target and is given the clearance to drop, a 500-pound piece of concrete plummets to its mark. The only visible sign of its accurate hit is a plume of dirt and snow after the "bomb" dives beneath the ground. It's a direct hit.
This successful training scenario recently set the foundation for 35th Fighter Wing pilots as they worked hand in hand with JTACs on Jan. 13 to employ various forms of precision-guided munitions at Misawa's Draughon Range. It was the first ever laser-guided munition training executed here, and the first PGM training in over five years.
"You're a lot more focused when you're actually dropping those munitions out there." said Capt. Christopher Cady, 14th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot, who was the first to participate in the training. "You don't get to fly with inert, or live, munitions very often here so you're making sure you're flying in the correct parameters and checking the position of all the switches in the cockpit."
Previously, 35 FW pilots would simulate dropping weapons, but to physically flip the master-arms switch to "arm" allows them to consent to release weapons.
Maj. Kevin Lord, 35th Operations Support Squadron director of operations, said the benefits are twofold - money is saved and valuable experience is gained.
"Typically, we would have to deploy entire squadrons at the cost of millions of dollars to send them to a suitable range to get that experience," Lord said, referencing large force employment exercises like RED FLAG and COPE NORTH.
But now, pilots can employ true combat training in what's essentially their backyard. Lord said bringing Draughon Range into play was a matter of implementing Air Force approved software upgrades linked to the munition systems, which now allows Misawa to be a premiere location for dynamic combat training.
For starters, the 14th Fighter Squadron pilots used the PGM training in preparation for an upcoming deployment which was also the perfect opportunity for JTACs from Kadena Air Base to hone their control skills.
"We've developed a training facility here most places want," Lord said. "They can use the same weapons they would in combat and do it right here at Misawa. The coordination becomes much simpler when all parties benefit."
He said most training scenarios can be developed within a week, instead of spending months and months of planning for larger, more expensive exercises.
"It's as easy as saying 'we're going to fly these missions this week, we'd like you to come participate,'" Lord said. "Usually they'll come up with a ground scenario, map the layout, lay the ground targets and the training attacks, and carry out a realistic exercise."
Squadrons from Misawa and Yokota Air Base took advantage of this by carrying out multiple PGM scenarios, as well as executing a C-130 Hercules tactical air drop where 35 FW F-16s escorted and protected the cargo plane from the range's JDEWR, or Joint Deployable Electronic Warfare Range.
"It's a totally different experience as a pilot to actually employ ordnance and see something come off your jet and the weapons effects," said Cady. "If the first time you're doing that is in combat, it would be more of a challenge and more stressful if you haven't actually had the chance to practice that."
Capt. Travis Smith, 35th Operations Support Squadron wing electronic warfare officer, explained that by giving them the ability to practice, they make sure they're as effective as possible.
"It minimizes any potential for collateral damage by honing the pilots' skills," said Smith. "Missing with a practice round is much less costly than missing with something that's going to make a large explosion."
Before this exercise, pilots routinely worked with the range control officers to drop BDU-33s, which are 25-pound unguided practice bombs.
"The major difference here was to have the presence of JTACs and loading of different munitions," said Smith. "Usually the range control officer would be doing the communication, but that was passed off to the JTACs for training."
"We verify that everything is good to go and give the clearance," said one JTAC. "If the pilots don't have someone to give clearance to release ordnance, they can't drop."
Lord said the attacks are set up so the munition will be released to only land in the restricted area, which in this case is the range.
"Ultimately, it helps every aspect of the mission," the controller said. "It destroys the 'bad guys' and that's what we all signed up for."