Here’s how an Integrated U.S. Force Secures a Critical Airfield in Contested Space

Jun 28 2016 - 5 Comments
By Todd Miller

Awesome images of A-10s, C-17s and C-130s involved in JFEX exercise.

The battle went unnoticed by most.

On Saturday, Jun. 18 a joint aerial friendly force faced a very capable and determined adversary.  The adversary fielded a world class air force combined with advanced radar and surface to air missile sites that create an Anti-Access/Area-Denial zone (A2/AD).

Within that zone, lay the target –  a critical airfield.  Operational plans called for a combined force of 39 C-17As and C-130H&Js to land equipment and drop paratroops from the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division onto the airfield and secure it.

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

This is the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise, or JFEX.

JFEX takes place twice a year as one of the final assignments for those participating in the U.S. Air Force Weapons School (USAFWS).  The Weapons School represents the highest level of training offered by the USAF.  Those selected to participate are typically instructors on their platforms (aircraft/systems), and have demonstrated leadership excellence. Weapons School graduates are among the finest leaders and advanced integration warfighters on the planet.

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield. on the NTTR. Overhead, F-15s, F-16s, B-52s and more keep the skies and ground clear of threats during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 436th AW/512 AW, Dover, DE kicks up the dust as it lands at Keno Airfield. on the NTTR. Overhead, F-15s, F-16s, B-52s and more keep the skies and ground clear of threats during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) provides the ideal venue for the exercise.  The restricted NTTR features advanced radar systems, surface to air missile sites (SAM), scores of ground targets as well as the unimproved Keno airfield.  These systems are configured to create the most challenging and realistic A2/AD threat.

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 437 AW/315 AW, Charleston, SC "cleans" the runway during take off from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

Air Mobility Command C-17A of the 437 AW/315 AW, Charleston, SC “cleans” the runway during take off from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

In addition to the transports, the joint Blue force utilized 33 aircraft of 9 platforms (F-16CM, F-15C, F-15E, EA-18G, B-52, A-10, E-3, RC-135J, E8, MQ-9).  Advanced command and control capabilities were complemented by Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) on the ground in the vicinity of the airfield.

A-10C of the 66 WPS, Nellis AFB turns away from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX. The A-10C offered close air support in the immediate victinity of the airfield during the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

A-10C of the 66 WPS, Nellis AFB turns away from Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX. The A-10C offered close air support in the immediate victinity of the airfield during the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (June 2016).

The Red Force included 10 aircraft (8 F-16s and 2 A-4s) complemented by a ground force that included U.S. Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).  The adversary ground threat combine and coordinate with Red air flying F-16s out of Nellis AFB.  Together, they form a dynamic and unpredictable adversary that must be forcibly neutralized.

Ground launched rocket streaks in front of C-17A's incoming for airdrop on Keno field in the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

Ground launched rocket streaks in front of C-17A’s incoming for airdrop on Keno field in the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

Col. Michael Drowley, Commandant of the USAFWS, notes that “…weapons school graduates are challenged to solve very difficult problems, given the smaller force size, integration is the key to success.”   JFEX demands the advanced platform and service integration that is anticipated in future warfare.

Air Mobility Command C-130J-30 of Little Rock AFB, AR overflies Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).  The "J's" ramp is open as it prepares to drop U.S. Army paratroppers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

Air Mobility Command C-130J-30 of Little Rock AFB, AR overflies Keno Airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016). The “J’s” ramp is open as it prepares to drop U.S. Army paratroppers from the 82nd Airborne Division.

With primary air and ground threats neutralized, the massive force of C-17As and C-130H and Js appeared over the field on cue.  Some of the transport aircraft had flown direct to the central Nevada location from distances as far as Fort Bragg, NC.  Throughout the operation, A-10s remained low and close to the airfield neutralizing any dynamic threats.  F-16CMs, F-15Cs and B-52s circled high overhead responding to ongoing SAM and air threats.  The exercise involved nearly 600 participants and went smoothly, though high surface winds led to an abort of the paratrooper jump.

F-15C of the 433 WPS launches flares while providing Defensive Counter Air over Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

F-15C of the 433 WPS launches flares while providing Defensive Counter Air over Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEX (June 2016).

Effective training challenges are those that are more difficult than real world scenarios.  Judging by this JFEX, the 2016-A class of Weapons Officers are ready for any challenge an adversary brings.

A-10C from Nellis, AFB provides Close Air Support at Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEC (Dec 2015)

A-10C from Nellis, AFB provides Close Air Support at Keno airfield on the NTTR during JFEC (Dec 2015)

Heartfelt thanks for the support provided by the USAF ACC 99 ABW PAO, specifically SrA Joshua Kleinholz, and Susan Garcia, U.S. Weapons School. Photo contributions by photographer Eric Bowen, JFEX Dec 2015.

Top image: Erik Bowen

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  • Marco

    Like Talibans, IS or any other real world enemy would ever field radar guided air defense network and combined air force… still trying to figure out why they train more to shoot at elephants with high caliber guns while spending less on pest eradication while ants are invading and eroding their house and elephants are far, far away and very peaceful.

    • Phil Verhey

      Because after Turkey shot down a Russian sucks-24 , all airspace could have been attempted to be closed over syria & taking away the threat of a Russian forward operating airbase could have been likely if that happened … for instance … or the ongoing crap show in Libya … or the unstable situation in Egypt … or the crap show in the Ukraine… say Putin throws caution to the wind and full on does away with the shadow invasion & kidnapping baltic officers in raids across the border & goes to annex more than Crimea & the attempt on eastern ukraine… Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia. .. heck even Finland are all also under just as much threat to be targeted… Russia has recent armed conflicts with all of them & Putin (all soviets) sees all of them as Russian estranged territory on a “to be as soon as possible” annex list. & in that instance, distributed airfields are needed… the US just outlined this month that in future conflicts the F-22/35’s will be scattered about smaller bases & civilian airports, so that the patriot batteries wont be overwhelmed & if Russia/China do decide to overwhelm a base with a missile volley, best they get is a handful of planes.

  • Evan Adams

    A-10’s I thought we had F-35’s now for that work? … ahem.

  • Tomcat

    EA-18G, The largest air force in the world and it still relies on the Navy to take an airbase. Sad.

    • Phil Verhey

      It’s an INTEGRATED “JOINT” excersize. .. queue the “facepalm”