The U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., completed the Weapons School Integration exercise, Operation Coyote Freedom, Dec. 10, 2017, at the Nevada Test and Training Range.
WSINT is a series of capstone exercises that requires the students to plan and execute large-scale air, space and cyber-space operations.
Operation Coyote Freedom focuses on utilizing air mobility support and special operations to seize key facilities.
“We wanted to enable integration of joint forces in order to execute the recovery of U.S. citizens held by enemy forces in a high-threat environment,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Dierig, 14th Weapons Squadron commander. “A unique aspect of Coyote Freedom was not only the need for students to rescue these hostages, but also to plan for de-escalation in the operating area due to third-party nations also operating in the same space.”
If hostage rescue, asset recovery and air mobility support didn’t already seem like a handful, the operation also took place under the cover of darkness.
“Operating at night is challenging and has inherent risks like maintaining safe altitudes in mountainous terrain and simply just flying in busy airspace with little to no light,” said Dierig. “Safety is always our first priority, and we mitigate the risks with detailed planning, but the major benefit is realistic training. Special operations forces (SOF) prefer to operate at night for the tactical advantage of executing the mission with speed and surprise before the enemy knows what hit them.”
More than 20 units, nearly 30 aircraft and approximately 160 personnel assigned to the weapons school, Air Combat Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, 160th Special Operations Air Regiment, Navy, Army and Air National Guard played a vital role in the success of the mission, said Capt. Cliff Lucas, 14th WPS instructor.
Exposure to large-scale joint force exercises gives the students an opportunity to perform in a controlled environment.
“As U.S. Special Operations Command assets, it is important for the 14th WPS students to understand and rehearse the precise, detailed planning required to design and execute an air mission supporting a hostage rescue,” said Dierig. “Although the fifth SOF Truth states, ‘Most SOF missions require support from non-SOF units,’ I would argue that all SOF missions require non-SOF support; therefore, it is important that all weapons school students are exposed to the training before they answer the call for a real-world, no-fail, rescue mission.”
After nearly five months of training to prepare students for the integration phase, there are more than 35 missions throughout the integration phase standing between the students and graduation. The 14th WPS participated in seven of those that also required SOF integration to ensure success, said Lucas.
“WSINT is by far the most robust training our students receive during the course,” said Dierig. “Nowhere else will you find 30-40 aircraft from dozens of joint units supporting a single training mission. The advanced integration also enables our students to speak directly to subject matter experts about capabilities that will ultimately reduce risk and maximize mission success.”
At the end of the day, the weapons school is a leadership course so our goal is to utilize tactics as a way to teach leadership and critical thinking.