In the early morning, the Alaskan skies are awakened to the sound of roaring jets soaring overhead. Languages from around the world are heard in the air, and though different, all of them come together as one team.
Pilots, maintainers, joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) and support personnel from the Republic of Korea Air Force, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Thai Air Force train alongside their U.S. and British counterparts during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, from June 6-21.
“We wanted to come here and participate in a large exercise to take advantage of the learning opportunities it has to offer and bring what we learned back to Korea,” said ROKAF Capt. Junhe Lee, an instructor pilot. “The different perspectives and seeing how other people do things is very helpful. We work a lot with U.S. members in Korea and this helps us better perform with them back home.”
The large-scale exercise is held several times each year and is designed to provide participants with realistic joint operational experience in a controlled environment which enables all involved to share tactics, techniques, and procedures and improve bilateral integration.
The main goal for the JTACs was to integrate joint operations, bring air-to-ground expertise into the RF-A arena, conduct close air support with the A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and JASDF F-2 Viper Zero aircraft, and absorb operational knowledge from one another.
“Everything is a benefit; the language, different aircraft and their capabilities, and working with U.S., Korean and Japanese counterparts,” said British Army Staff Sgt. Robert Leonard, a JTAC assigned to the British Army Headquarters 1st Artillery Brigade. “It’s like one big school where everybody is learning from everybody.”
An added benefit for the JTACs and pilots is getting a chance they don’t often have and talk about their missions and how they can better support one another.
“We get the opportunity to actually sit down with them, look them in the eye, start talking shop and figure out how we are going to solve any tactical problem,” said Senior Master Sgt. Cory Welton, superintendent with the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, Washington Air National Guard.
The U.S. continues to build synergy with their coalition partners, and exercises like RF-A ensures U.S. forces are ready to face evolving challenges in the Indo-Pacific region and maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.
“By conducting joint training with other countries, we believe we can deepen our bond on the operational side as well as the mental side,” said JASDF Maj. Ryuicei Sakamoto. “No single country can ensure the security for the region, and it’s important for us to be a team, so that we can contribute to the stabilization of the region.”
Welton shared the sentiment.
“There’s no conflict in the future where we are going to be the sole force out there,” he said. “We have to understand how our military partners operate and how we can best integrate with them to accomplish the mission at hand.”