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173rd Fighter Wing Eagles in Australia

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jerry Bynum
  • 173rd
173rd Fighter Wing Eagles in Australia

By Master Sgt. Jerry Bynum

The 173rd Fighter Wing (FW) from Kingsley Field, Klamath Falls, Oregon started a flight exercise, "Sentry Downunder", on Monday, August 25 with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 2nd Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) located at RAAF Williamtown, New South Wales, Australia. Members of the 173rd FW arrived in Australia late last week and prepared for the arrival of Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagles from the 173rd FW and a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 141st Air Refueling Wing (ARW), Washington Air National Guard, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. The F-15s and KC-135 arrived at RAAF Williamtown on August 22.

Like the 173rd FW, the 2nd OCU has a strong culture of training. The 2nd OCU trains RAAF fighter pilots as its primary role. They run the operational conversion courses for new pilots to the RAAF's F/A-18 Hornet, operational refresher courses for former F-18 pilots returning to the aircraft, and fighter combat instructor courses to provide postgraduate qualifications for selected aircrew.

"Sentry Downunder" is a joint flight exercise with the 173rd FW assisting the RAAF 2nd OCU combat fighter instructor course with their advanced fighter weapons school. "This training gives us the opportunity to work with one of our closest allies," says Major Brian Bergeron, 173rd FW project officer for the deployment. "Camaraderie was evident from the very first day; we train fighter pilots and we do the same things for the same reasons." The RAAF F-18's from the 77th Squadron (SQN), which is their operational squadron located at RAAF Williamtown, is also getting the opportunity to participate in the exercise.

It has been a busy week of flying. During "Sentry Downunder" the 173rd FW has performed tactical sorties as well as familiarization flights. Forty-nine sorties were flown during the week with the 2nd OCU and the 77th SQN. Each sortie has included multiple training missions. "These missions are a great learning experience for everyone involved," says Major Johan Deutscher, 173rd FW instructor pilot. "The RAAF gets an opportunity to look at the full capabilities of another airframe as well as train with seasoned instructor pilots." The 173rd FW pilots bring a lot of experience to the exercise. On average, each instructor pilot has over 2,000 flight hours in the F-15. This experience provides a high quality training environment for the RAAF.

"The 173rd FW is bringing a high level of experience," says Wing Commander Phil Gordon, RAAF 2nd OCU commander. "The Eagle pilots are really putting us through our paces with high quality fighting... I would love this training to happen as often as it can." The 2nd OCU performs the same mission for the RAAF as the 173rd FW does for the United States, train combat fighter pilots. "The 173rd FW understands what we do," says Gordon, "I couldn't be happier with you guys coming out flying with us".

During the exercise, 173rd FW is acting as adversary support for the 2nd OCU. This helps them meet their syllabus requirements for their advanced fighter weapons school. "Sentry Downunder" provides an avenue for the RAAF pilots to learn the Hornet's strengths and weaknesses during dissimilar aircraft engagements. "The RAAF pilots are learning a lot about the capabilities of their aircraft during this training," says Deutscher.

During the past week of tactical sorties, the fighters have been concentrating on one versus one basic fighter maneuvers; better know as "dog fighting". This training focuses on close quarter combat where each aircraft is within sight of the other. Next week the tactical sorties will focus on long range tactical intercepts. The F-15 will simulate the Sukhoi SU-27 Flanker to provide different tactics required by the RAAF course syllabus. This training allows the RAAF to adapt their tactics to maximize their strengths.

Pilots from the 173rd FW and the 2nd OCU have also participated in familiarization "ride-along" flights in the F-15 and the F-18 respectively. This provides a unique opportunity for pilots to see, and "feel", how the other jets fly.

In-flight tanker support from the 141st ARW has provided air-to-air refueling during the exercise. "We have flown in-flight refueling missions in support of the 173rd FW and the RAAF," says Lt. Col. Kevin Littlemore, 141st ARW deployment commander. "It has been great to work with the RAAF; this exercise has provided a great opportunity for in-flight refueling training for our allies." Not only is the tanker providing additional training, it is critical to provide the necessary fuel to accomplish the mission. Without the KC-135, flight sorties would be limited. "Tanker support is allowing us to conduct a training mission, refuel, and fly another training mission," says Bergeron.

Not only has there been camaraderie in the air, but on the ground as well. This has been an opportunity for open communication and work with other aspects of the RAAF. The 173rd FW deployed maintenance package is getting the opportunity to interact with the different maintenance functions of the RAAF. "This has been a great opportunity to exchange maintenance practices and learn about different technologies that the RAAF are using, especially when it comes to aircraft servicing," says Captain Micah Lambert, 173rd FW maintenance officer. "The exchange of ideas helps all of each of us improve the way we perform our jobs."

The maintenance operations control center has to coordinate with the RAAF on a daily basis concerning maintenance issues and air traffic control. Other interaction includes the fuels management flight, which has had the opportunity to work side-by-side with the RAAF during ground refueling operations for the F-15. Each area has had an opportunity to work with their respective counterpart in the RAAF.

Flying will continue through next week and conclude on Friday, September 5. "Training with the Australians has provided our instructors, maintenance, logistics, and support personnel with a better understanding of our allies and their capabilities," says Colonel James Miller, 173rd FW commander. "The mission and our very supportive hosts have been wonderful... the lessons learned will prove invaluable in the years ahead."