The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy participated in the annual Fleet Synthetic Training — Joint (FST-J) 16-72, a joint maritime training exercise April 25-29, 2016, at Point Loma Naval Station, San Diego, and Yokosuka, Japan.
The exercise provided an opportunity for the two services to integrate MQ-1 Predator capabilities with maritime operations for familiarization and preparedness for future operations.
“FST-J exposes naval fleet forces to RPA operations,” said Capt. Nick, 15th Reconnaissance Squadron weapons and tactics officer. “During the exercise we covered how to best task an RPA, integrate real time [full motion video] into their strike approval process, and discern what roles RPAs are best suited to in air operations in maritime surface warfare.”
‘Synthetic,’ in the training name, meant the exercise was almost entirely simulated and completed from a central simulation center at Point Loma.
“Just like we support the guys on the ground, we supported the Naval assets at sea,” said Capt. Joel, 15th RS pilot. “Our primary mission was to find and identify ships and or threats in the maritime environment.”
The crew flew two simulated MQ-1 Predators alongside Navy assets which provided a learning experience for both services and allowed for effective communication and battlespace management.
“I think it was important for the Navy to see what we offer and that it is vital to overall situational awareness and protection of Naval assets,” said Joel. “The ability to provide a picture of what we are seeing, and to project that picture across the command aids while painting the battlespace in real time. [It] allows decisions to be made much more timely and effectively.”
Facilitating the exercise was a U.S. Air Force liaison officer at Yokosuka, Japan, who coordinated meetings and acted as a conduit to the undermanned Central Air Operations Center to fulfill standard intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requests, as well as taskings and operations within a targeting cell.
“For us, the training is a huge opportunity to hone our ability to operate in a maritime environment, as well as to work directly with our Navy counterparts,” said 1st Lt. James, 15th RS (liaison officer). “It gives the Navy a much better understanding of RPA capabilities and limitations in future theaters, and paves the way for us to integrate in other theaters in the future.”
As the liaison officer, James worked with the MQ-1 crew in San Diego, and the Navy in the intelligence and sea combat commander cells in Japan. This allowed both services to work together in the most efficient way possible.
James went on to say with combat theaters on coastlines, the armed forces would be able to transition at a moment’s notice and integrate seamlessly.
Not only did the exercise provide benefits for the Air Force, it also allowed the Navy to certify various naval assets within the fleet for contingency operations.
“I think sometimes as operators, we get locked into our bubble of what we know and our own capabilities, that we fail to inform and teach others what we can offer to the fight,” Joel said. “By interacting in a joint environment such as FST-J, we learn what capabilities other assets have as well as have to teach and display our own capabilities. Knowing how to work better together only aids in maximizing our effects as a military force.”