Keep your eyes to the sky. The largest air war exercise seen in the Pacific Northwest began Monday with more than 3,700 military personnel from 30 countries descending on the region’s Air Force bases, including Fairchild Air Force Base.
The two-week war game will take place across the entire state, and is described by the military as “the most realistic, real-world, scenario-driven exercise ever conducted.” Airmen and soldiers will be “airdropping paratroopers and supplies, setting up remote airfields, accomplishing aeromedical evacuation missions and conducting aerial refueling.”
Fairchild and Joint Base Lewis-McChord will play central roles in the Mobility Guardian exercise, along with the state’s McAllister Field, Yakima Training Center and the Moses Lake area. The exercise will use the Air Force’s many types of aircraft: tankers, fighters, cargo and bombers – vehicles heavily involved in the war against the Islamic State.
In all, about 90 aircraft will be used in the exercise.
“The goal of this exercise is to train like we fight. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a large-scale mass exercise,” said Maj. Andrew Rich, a Mobility Guardian planner. “We don’t go to war by ourselves. We partner up with our allies and we do it as a coalition.”
Canada, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Pakistan, Colombia, Brazil, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand will participate in the exercise. Many other countries will be on-hand to observe, including Germany, Argentina and Kazakhstan.
With flying operations beginning Wednesday, Spokane sky watchers should notice an uptick in traffic from the base.
“Fairchild is a tanker base. Not a whole lot of airlift goes on at a tanker base,” said Rich, who said the exercise will “max out” Fairchild’s capacity. “Fifty aircraft will be flying out of Fairchild a day. That’s four and half planes every hour. The ramp is going to be full of aircraft.”
For the exercise, Fairchild will play the lead role in tanker flying and logistics planning, and the mission commander for the exercise’s tanker component is Fairchild’s Col. Todd Cargle. Fairchild’s team will lead the aeromedical evacuation during the exercise, an important piece of the military’s combat and humanitarian missions, according to Maj. Korry Leverett, who works in Air Force public affairs.
The U.S. Transportation Command, of which the air command is part, aims for the capacity to respond anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. The air command is composed of nearly 49,000 active duty members and civilians, 42,000 Air Reserve members and 35,000 Air National Guard members.
The command operates a number of aircraft, including the C-5 Galaxy, C-130 Hercules and KC-135 Stratotanker.
Mobility Guardian’s largest day will be above Moses Lake. Forty aircraft will take part in the Joint Force Re-entry exercise, including tankers, C-17 Globemasters and C-130s. The Army’s 82nd Airborne Division will perform a parachute assault in what Rich called a “12-hour huge muscle movement.”