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"Airman Culture" key to exercise SALITRE success

  • Published
  • By Capt Nathan D. Broshear and Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
Exercise SALITRE came to a successful close Oct. 30 thanks to the Total Force effort of nearly 200 active-duty and Air National Guard Airmen, representing five U.S. bases, and supporting coalition efforts to strengthen regional military ties and interoperability. The monumental exercise, hosted by the Fuerza Aerea de Chile (FACh), integrated Airmen from Chile, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and France into one Air Force.

The experience was not without its challenges, but by relying on a common "Airman Culture," the combined force adapted to a coalition environment and successfully coordinated command and control to wage an air campaign. For example, French airborne warning and control aircraft choreographed U.S. F-15s and Chilean F-16s, FACh pararescue jumpers parachuted from a U.S. HC-130, and a French KC-135 refueled Argentinean A-4s and Brazilian A-1s.

"SALITRE was a great opportunity for the United States Air Force to practice working with their counterparts from France and across South America," said Col. Bryan Bearden, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Director of Operations and exercise director for U.S. Air Force participation in SALITRE. "I fully believe that the exercise successes can be attributed to the outstanding caliber of professional Airmen from every country being represented here. By training together with a mutual commitment, we can better respond to a real-world crisis or integrate into United Nations peacekeeping operations as a unified team in the future."

The exercise scenario pitted coalition forces against rogue military forces conducting military operations against civilians on a fictional island. The first goal was to stop military action against innocent civilians, and the second was to provide humanitarian assistance to the population. The entire scenario, which was designed to test interoperability between the five participating nations, tested two major arenas: air operations and command and control.

Participating U.S. units included:
-- 1 HC-130 Hercules from the 23rd Wing, 71st Rescue Squadron, Moody AFB, Georgia
-- 2 KC-135 Stratotankers from the 161st Aerial Refueling Wing, 197th Air Refueling Squadron, Arizona Air National Guard, Phoenix, Ariz.
-- 6 F-15C and a C-130 from the 159th Fighter Wing, 122nd Fighter Squadron, Louisiana Air National Guard, New Orleans, Louisiana
-- 22 Air Forces Southern Air Operations Center and support personnel from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.
-- Two airfield communications technicians with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

F-15C and C-130
The Louisiana Air National Guard 159th Fighter Wing supplied six F-15C aircraft to play the role of "Blue Air" out of Cerro Moreno Air Base in Antofagasta. Their mission was to gain air superiority over the "Red Air" of fictional rogue forces based out of Los Condores Air Base in Iquique. In addition, the 159th FW supplied a C-130 Hercules for tactical airlift support during the exercise. The five aircrew and two maintainers shuttled personnel and equipment from Louisiana, and after arriving in Chile, immediately set to work making sure the right people were in the right places. They flew numerous sorties during SALITRE, including a last-minute mission to Santiago to retrieve a critical fuel system part for an F-15.

The Arizona Air National Guard 161st Air Refueling Wing flew daily air refueling sorties with two KC-135 Stratotankers in support of not only U.S. F-15s but also FACh F-16s. Without mid-air refueling, the range of fighters is limited, severely hampering air interdiction and security capability. In addition to refueling, the "Copperheads" airlifted personnel and equipment from Louisiana and Arizona directly to Chile, demonstrating rapid global mobility at work.

Some members of the 161st ARW marked SALITRE as their second or third visit to Chile. For Master Sgt. Jeff Swab, 30-year crewchief, the "common culture" was easily recognizable. The hospitality, mission support, and ability to integrate successfully all falls back into the theme of 'one team, one fight,' he said, where the mission of keeping aircraft flying bridges any obstacle during combined operations.

"Airplanes are airplanes," Sergeant Swab said. "The FACh have an extremely high standard of maintenance - their dedication and devotion to duty are right up there. I think that's why we integrate so well together. Both services are very similar. The only difference is geographic location. We are still all maintainers; a tight-knit, strong family."

The tanker aircrews and maintenance personnel even took time out to visit a local school in Alto Hospicia. Two days later, the unit collected money to rent a bus and invited the same children to the base for a tour of FACh and U.S. aircraft.

Airfield Communications
The FACh bases in Iquique and Antofagasta are equipped with navigation aids which the F-15C cannot detect. Without these navigation aids, locating the airfields and orienting the aircraft to land safely would be impossible for Eagle pilots. To remedy the situation, and ensure U.S. fighter involvement in the multinational exercise, two Airmen with the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., arrived a week before to install, test, and validate a Tactical Navigation Aid, or TACAN. The system is normally reserved for combat controllers establishing air strips in austere environments. This is the first time such systems have been used for an exercise of this nature, and the employment was a success.

Air Forces Southern supplied 22 Airmen from the 612th Air Operations Center, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Chile, to integrate into the FACh Combined Air Operations Center in Antofagasta. The team went to work right away, adapting to new computer systems, integrating their own experience into the air operation planning, and most importantly, learning from their multinational counterparts. Almost every cell in the CAOC had representatives from each participating Air Force, and the strength of such diverse experience was key in completing exercise objectives.