May 18, 2016

Emerald Warrior 16 increases joint forces interoperability

Capt. Zach Anderson
Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Special Tactics Airmen, assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing, conduct static line jump operations from a U.S. Air Force MC-130H Combat Talon II assigned to the 15th Special Operations Squadron during Emerald Warrior, over a training range near Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 9, 2016. Emerald Warrior is a U.S. Special Operation Command-sponsored mission rehearsal exercise during which joint special operations forces train to respond to real and emerging worldwide threats.

The final mission of Emerald Warrior 2016 was completed May 13, concluding two successful weeks of intense irregular warfare training designed to reinforce U.S. special operations forces interoperability and capabilities.

More than 1,500 special operations and conventional military personnel from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force participated in the 16th iteration of the Air Force Special Operations Command-hosted Department of Defense exercise, which takes place in several locations throughout the southeastern United States. During the exercise, special operations and conventional forces flew more than 200 sorties and logged more than 700 flight hours, along with accomplishing 22 training mission profiles and an additional 17 “virtual” mission profiles.

Emerald Warrior focuses on irregular warfare and hones special operations forces air and ground combat skills. The exercise meshes each service’s special operations and conventional assets together in scenarios that mirror those often encountered in a deployed environment.

An AC-130 gunship launches as part of Emerald Warrior 2016.

“Interoperability is the key to successful combat operations on the modern battlefield and Emerald Warrior does this better than any other exercise in the Department of Defense,” said Lt. Col. Eric Sullivan, deputy director for Emerald Warrior.

Emerald Warrior is an air-centric, tactical level pre-deployment exercise. Sullivan said the primary training audiences are AFSOC Airmen, followed by sister-service special operations air participants and ground participants. Conventional forces participating in the exercise support the special operations participants training objectives.

“Our focus training areas are close air support, tactical airlift, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” said Sullivan. “This year was the first year we had Naval Special Warfare personnel as our primary special operations ground participants, so to accommodate their training objectives we also added visit board search and seizure missions along with gas and oil platform assault missions.”

Putting a two-week exercise of this magnitude together took the efforts of a dedicated team of planners made up of conventional and special operations personnel as well as civilian contractors.

U.S. Navy sailor assigned to the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 Chargers fires from a MH-60 Seahawk during Emerald Warrior 2016 at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 12, 2016.

“The planning team, both the Emerald Warrior contractors and the unit planners, work very well together to craft a challenging event for the participants,” said David Patterson, Emerald Warrior air operations planner. “The exercise participants received injects and worked exceptionally hard through difficult problems to achieve the exercise objectives.”

One of the changes to this year’s iteration of Emerald Warrior was the deliberate minimization of direction from the exercise control group to the operators in the field. The exercise control group is the central hub for the exercise and plans out the scenarios faced by the operators in the field. Sullivan said this hands-off approach enhanced the effectiveness of the overall training experience.

A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache D, shoots a missile over Eglin Range, Fla., during close air support training during Emerald Warrior 16, May 11, 2016.

“It significantly improved the quality and the realism of the training and replicated the fog of war,” said Sullivan. “In previous years, the exercise control group was more directive in helping the training audience along through the mission sets, which significantly minimized the fog of war element.”

With this year’s Emerald Warrior completed, exercise planners are already beginning to develop their strategy on how to build upon the success of this year’s exercise with a continued focus on the important training this annual event provides.

“Outside of combat, there is little opportunity to get this diverse of a group of assets together to train at this level,” said Patterson. “This year’s exercise was better than last year, but not as good as next year’s.”

A U.S. Army Soldier directs a UH-60 Black Hawk during Exercise Emerald Warrior 16 at Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss., May 10, 2016.


An Air Commando assigned to the 15th Special Operations Squadron watches the sunset from the back of an MC-130H Combat Talon II during Exercise Emerald Warrior 16, May 12, 2016, at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

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