Imagine the sound of 24 C-130 Hercules transports buzz-sawing their way down the runway at Dyess Air Force Base. This incredible scene, and the many others posted below, was the result of the USAF's latest Joint Forcible Entry Exercise, which also saw 20 C-17 Globemasters take part, along with a plethora of fighter and support aircraft, as well as many ground combat elements.
JFEX is a massive air lift exercise that pulls together multiple tactics and platforms from across the US to participate in a very complex series of large force employment (LFE) scenarios. These scenarios usually have to do with gaining a foothold right in the enemy's backyard via the application of air power combined with ground combat units. The USAF states:
The Joint Concept for Entry Operations doctrine defines forcible entry as the seizing and holding of a lodgment in the face of armed opposition. The exercise tested the Air Force's ability to tactically deliver and recover combat assets via air drops in a contested environment.
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Three seperate mini-wars made up JFEX '14, with one being 'fought' in the Pacific region, with C-17 units from Alaska, Washington State and Hawaii. This fake war scenario was called the 'Rainier War,' during which, five ship formations of C-17s would perform low-level interdiction flying, heavy container delivery system drops and a series of aerial refuelings over Washington State.
Capt. Cliff Caldwell, 62nd Operations Support Squadron wing weapons and tactics director stated:
"This is day one and night one of the war... This is us going in and taking all the training that we do and putting it all together and focus on application of combat skills."
Another 'war' was also being conducted over Keno Airstrip, located within Nevada Test and Training Range, which saw C-17s, C-130s and dozens of other aircraft envelope the austere airstrip while under simulated threat from various layers of enemy defenses. A highly orchestrated series of airdrops, landings and departures occurred at Keno while being supported by special operations forces on the ground and a full range of combat and support aircraft.
The whole goal of these giant JFEX exercises, which are put on by the USAF's Weapon School, is to put the school's prestigious students, along with external mission planners, aircrews, their machines and support elements to the test by attempting to prove the entire force's ability to synchronize large numbers of aircraft operations from bases separated by thousands of miles, then having these mixed fleets participate in large formations and 'access operations' in a high-threat environment. Beyond that, critical skills like the ability to deliver and extract combat forces from rough airstrips and by using various drop techniques under threat, proves that the USAF's tactical airlift abilities can work as a canopener on an enemy's territory.
The 'joint' aspect of these training events also underlines the vast array of DoD capabilities that are brought to bear to make such an undertaking happen safely and successfully. For instance, up-to-date satellite imagery and intelligence has to be used to plan the assault. Fighter aircraft have to sweep the skies of enemy fighters and jamming aircraft and 'Wild Weasels" have to respond to enemy radar threats as they popup as the formations of transport aircraft interdict their way into the enemy's airspace. An AWACS may control the 'big picture' flow of air traffic over the battlespace but USAF combat controllers on the ground, supported by special forces teams, would control the terminal area around the airstrip itself, potentially while under simulated attack. Meanwhile, A-10s may provide armed over-watch of the operation, watching for enemy advances on the airstrip's perimeter. Communications, aerial refueling tracks, search and rescue assets, payloads, integration of large ground force units (this exercise it was the 82nd Airborne) and so many other elements need to be addressed as well. The reality is that it literally takes much more than a village to make something like what JFEX attempts to pull off happen, and ironing out any bugs during training is much less costly than doing it during real-life combat operations.
Capt. Andy Miller, 29th Weapons Squadron and JFE 14B instructor states:
"Here at the Weapons School, we're able to instill in our students the tactical-level tools that will enable them to be successful in the future, in the planning and execution of a joint forcible entry. In this case, we're able to take a glimpse at both the operational and strategic level impacts of this capability."
They say logistics wins wars, and in this day and age of emerging enemy anti-access/area denial capabilities and America's stumbling pivot toward the Pacific, this statement remains highly relevant. Future wars will be just as much about sustaining dispersed forces separated by great distances, and hitting the enemy where they least expect it with non-traditional attacks, than anything else. With exercises like JFEX, our air mobility forces can exercise the breadth of their capabilities while learning how to integrate with all the different elements that make such complex combat missions actually feasible. Finally, the very fact that America's military, including its air mobility forces, train to such a high a degree for combat operations works as a strong deterrent to would-be aggressors, and like other emerging expeditionary tactics, it makes them vulnerable in places they traditionally would never have thought of as being militarily accessible.
Source and Photos: USAF
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com