Two Luftwaffe “Blue” AG-51 Tornados zoomed through the desert skies, closing in on a U.S. Navy “Red” E/A-18G Growler, that just fired missiles at a U.S. Air Force convoy moving across the desert about 15 miles from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.
“I got a lock-on,” bellows one of the German Air Force pilots.
Moments later, the Super Hornet’s threat is neutralized, and a combat search and rescue team heads off into the desert to rescue a downed pilot.
Fortunately, that action-packed 20 minutes was fictitious yet wasn’t much different than the hundreds of other sorties flown during a multinational combined-joint exercise dubbed Mountain Roundup 2013, which took place Sept. 30 through Oct. 16.
The exercise was part of the German Air Force Tornado Fighter Weapons Instructor Course Mission Employment Phase, where hundreds of GAF, Royal Canadian Air Force, U.S. Marines, Navy, and Airmen trained in realistic ground operations, close-air support (CAS), urban combatives, convoy operations, basic fighter maneuvers, counter air and multiple air-to-air training scenarios.
“The German Air Force trained weapons instructors on the Tornado fighter, and part of that is training in a complex close-air support environment where we, as JTACs, provide coordination between air and ground troops,” said GAF 1st Lt. Fabian Rauscher, joint terminal attack controller.
Rauscher entered the Air Force in 2007 as a pilot and crossed into JTAC in 2010. The combination of the skills attained as a fighter pilot and JTAC give him valuable insight into the complete battlefield, he said.
“We are advisors on capabilities and limitations on combat airpower for ground troops engaged in ground battles on a two-dimensional battlefield,” Rauscher said. “We try to reach a synergy of effects between ground and air elements, which is vital to allied nations and NATO.”
Marines, airmen, and German Air Force personnel teamed up as part of Mountain Roundup 2013 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. German Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, Marines with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), and airmen from the 124th Air Support Operations Squadron trained to attack and defend against enemies in both modern countries and terrorist organizations. They deployed a range of capabilities and were able to identify and strike valid military targets, then relay information to aircraft and ground and air commanders. Multinational exercises increase interoperability for future operations worldwide.
Video by: Senior Airman Jaye Legate
During Mountain Roundup 2013, GAF JTACs teamed with JTACs from the Marine Corps 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) and Airmen from the 124th Air Support Operations Squadron, Gowen Field, Idaho.
The scenarios were complex in the air and on the ground.
“We set up pre-defined scenarios that are realistic for air support, and trained to engage and defend against both modern countries and terrorist organizations,” said Rauscher. “We trained to attack and defend ourselves against these enemies by identifying and striking valid military targets, and relay related information to aircraft, and ground and air commanders.”
Though their role was limited by the government shutdown, 391st Fighter Squadron Bold Tigers flew F-15E Strike Eagle sorties to validate their proficiencies in air-to-ground operations. One tactic used is shows-of-force, where a Strike Eagle or another allied aircraft will come in very low and sometimes drop flares to “let the enemy know we can call on big guns if they don’t lay down arms,” said GAF 1st Lt. Tim Ermisch, JTAC who directed 17 aircraft, and simultaneously controlled eight jets from three different countries, providing close-air support and shows-of-force.
Bold Tigers partnered with Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG Strike Eagles, GAF Tornados, Navy AV-8B Harriers and a multitude of other aircraft, dropping simulated bombs on buildings, tanks or convoys, strafing enemy troops or vehicles and providing shows-of-force.
“When in places like Afghanistan, you can use a show-of-force just as a psychological deterrent for the enemy but if that doesn’t work, you often have to go kinetic,” said Ermisch, a seasoned veteran who’s performed JTAC duties in Afghanistan’s Regional Command-North.
The Air Force has become a crucial component of combined-joint operations. In RC-N there’s a large German military contingency working in union with the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to employ forces and eliminate threats on the ground. That scenario was exercised during Mountain Roundup.
Realistic training provides the U.S. and partnered warfighters with the combat edge. Mountain Home AFB has hosted the training since 2004 because the base has the right mix of air space, modern ranges and proficient personnel, which creates the perfect location for this type of joint training.
“The end result of this exercise is a collection of warfighters from multiple nations and branches of services that are significantly more prepared to engage in coalition major combat operations,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Tapan Sen, 366th Fighter Wing Weapons and Tactics Flight commander.
Though all forces received vital combat training here, Mountain Roundup served as the final stage for three years of Luftwaffe pilot training, which is accomplished at the GAF Flying Training Center at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
One tactic practiced was pilots’ ability to strike moving targets, and JTACs proficiency in guiding those pilots onto target while advising them of ground threats, as “enemy” forces launched SMU-124E Smokey Sam Simulator missiles into the air.
“We have to react quickly when Smokey Sams are launched, which creates very realistic training scenarios for JTACs and aircrew,” said Rauscher. “When you are watching a moving convoy, (like the ones the 726th Air Control Squadron conducted,) you still must keep your head on a swivel because threats can come from anywhere, and at any time.”
The GAF and Marine ANGLICO Supporting Arms Liaison Team (SALT) JTACs worked in harmony for many missions, but the SALT team, which is slated to deploy later this year, also used Mountain Roundup as an opportunity to exercise urban combatives.
Urban combat while controlling CAS to support that combat is the bread and butter of any JTAC or SALT unit, said Marine Capt. Charles Watt, 1st ANGLICO SALT officer in-charge.
Aside from communicating with aviators, the SALT teams can integrate both ground and naval surface fires to support the ground commander’s scheme of maneuver, said Watt. The FCTs will occupy positions throughout the training area and conduct CAS in support of a simulated-ground element.
“We enable foreign militaries to capitalize on fire support provided by the U.S. military by embedding fire support experts within their ranks,” said Watt. “Mountain Roundup is an excellent opportunity for our SALT to use various CAS platforms.”
Marine Capt. Erich Lloyd, 1st ANGLICO forward air controller deployed from Camp Pendleton, Calif., recalled one urban scenario, exercised Oct. 8, 2013 at a Juniper Butte training range mock village, roughly 70 miles from Mountain Home AFB.
“Our mission during the urban assault was to attach to a U.S. Army unit and assault through the objective looking for chemical weapons – Serine gas – near the rail yard,” said Lloyd, who led a four-man FCT, while commanding a second FCT and controlling CAS for the mission.
Lloyd had two FCT during the scenario; one was providing over-watch and the team he directly led, was a bounding FCT, which was tasked with clearing buildings and locating the chemical weapons. The Army unit they attached to would be a quick-reaction force, if needed, and would support after the initial assault.
Lloyd, a prior enlisted crew chief, had four Navy Harriers in the area prior to launching the assault and had another four RSAF F-15SGs local, so knew with a call for CAS, he literally had 500- to 2000-pounds of freedom, available to drop at his request.
“We hit the town pretty hard, and then hit the rail yard,” said Lloyd, an experienced combat veteran who commands dozens of Afghanistan-seasoned combat Marines. “Once we got to the rail yard, we quickly got intelligence on where the chemical weapons could be found and we moved to that objective, pushing through (simulated) enemy contact along the route.”
As the SALT moved into the village, Lloyd knew his Marines had to make it to their objective really fast, he said. He had about one hour to scour a village and clear buildings.
For SALT officers or NCOs leading strikes, command and control is essential, as is communication.
“Is pretty easy to control a small four-man team but maintaining control and communications over a whole squad or platoon can be complex, but as ANGLICO, we typically move in specialized four-man fire power control teams which minimizes our ability to clear every building, but allows us the ability to get to our objective as quick as possible,” said Lloyd, whose team accomplished their mission, and also took the opportunity to share the training scenarios with other servicemembers.
As the scenario unfolded, Lloyd and his SALT team got the opportunity to use both Navy and RSAF air assets to destroy enemy soldiers.
Partnering with coalition or joint partners isn’t a new concept for ANGLICO SALT Marines. In fact, they’ve been doing it since World War II, and have been a major contribution to reconnaissance missions.
One tool JTACs use to recon a battlefield is the RQ-11B Raven unmanned aerial system, a small, hand-launched, remote-controlled system which provides day and night real-time video imagery, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.
“The Raven is used for taking photos and video of enemy positions,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Thompson, 1st ANGLICO forward observer (FO). “We can easily fly it into places where the enemy may or may not be, in order to gather strategic reconnaissance information.”
The smallest of ANGLICO’s unmanned aerial systems, the Raven has a wingspan of four feet-six inches, weighs four pounds, has a flight endurance of 60-90 minutes and an effective operational radius of approximately 6.2 miles.
“We utilize the Raven system as a tool to keep Marines and our coalition partners safe,” said Marine Lance Cpl. William Thornton, 1st ANGLICO FO. “With this device there isn’t a need to send a squad into an unknown area. They could potentially walk into a trap or spend large amounts of time getting to the objective point, only to find zero enemy intelligence.”
During their last deployment, Marines assigned to 1st ANGLICO worked with the British Army, Afghan National Army, and several other units from various nations.
“As 1st ANGLICO, we are attached to other units regularly and we utilize the Raven as a way for us to keep those fire-teams safe and give them as much information as possible,” said Thornton. “It’s a stealthy, reconnaissance tool which, when used correctly, can assist in bringing everyone home safe and ultimately winning the battle.”
Anyone who’s spent time in Southern or Western Afghanistan would likely agree the deserts around Mountain Home look very familiar. That realistic environment makes the perfect location for ground forces to operate against fictitious enemies and perform JTAC training, and the realism is in Afghanistan and on virtually any battlefield past or present, winning battles doesn’t end when the sun sets, so it’s essential participants at Mountain Roundup continue to train through the night.
Unhindered by the elements, Walker, Lloyd and SALT-D continued to direct bombs on target as they provided vital night-time combat experience to the pilots above. In SALT-D forward air controller Marine Sgt. Joel Flores’ words, “it’s not the flag on your arm or service patch on your chest that defines a warrior; it’s the ethos of a man (or woman) who refuses to stand-by when his country needs him most.”
Different flags, different services and a wide-array of capabilities synergized during the exercise.
“Everybody brings different capabilities, so the challenge at Mountain Roundup is to determine who the best person is to execute a task. What we accomplished was a bolstered international-interoperability and increased competence in our pilots, maintainers, support personnel and ground troops,” said German Air Force Maj. Marcel Schlereth, mission employment phase manager, adding:
This year marked the ninth time Mountain Home has hosted the training and Mountain Roundup 2013 provided realistic training to meet the challenges of today and the future.
(MSgt Kevin Wallace, SrA Benjamin Sutton, SrA Jaye Legate, A1C Devin Nothstine and A1C Malissa Lott all contributed to this story, photos and videos.)