SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFNS) — Sixteen mobility Airmen attending the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, participated in a joint forcible entry exercise at the Nevada Test and Training Range June 18.
The exercise, known as JFE Vul, is a large-scale air mobility exercise designed to expose students to a wide range of scenarios they might encounter while operating their aircraft in a contested battlespace.
The exercise is a capstone event for students nearing completion of the C-17 Weapons Instructor Course and the C-130 Weapons Instructor Course, said Maj. Chris Lawler, the 57th Weapons Squadron assistant director of operations and exercise lead for JFE Vul.
During the exercise, participants act as a global response force to plan and execute an intricate airdrop operation in a simulated enemy environment in which sophisticated integrated air defense systems are employed.
This iteration of the exercise included 87 aircraft representing multiple mission design series from around the world, totaling $8.1 billion in airborne assets, Lawler said.
JFE Vul is led by the students, making it the only event of its kind that tests this mission set in a hostile combat environment, Lawler noted. The scenarios presented are meant to simulate the challenges of gaining access to enemy-controlled airspace in order to tactically deliver and recover units such as the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
“This exercise emphasizes the Air Force’s ability to place Army assets on the ground anywhere we want, when we want,” Lawler said.
The emphasis on interoperability also plays a significant role in enhancing partnerships and preparing mobility forces to accomplish the Air Mobility Command and U.S. Transportation Command missions.
“This is the only time crews have dedicated support and assets together in one location to do a dress rehearsal of how this concept would go down in a real-world situation,” said Capt. Chris Mahan, a WIC student and C-17 Globemaster III instructor pilot from the 15th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.
“Being able to integrate with the Army and add another layer of complexity and realism to training shows us what our true capabilities are,” he added.
The integration of forces in this particular exercise provides both students and coalition partners with a joint perspective on how to best support airdrop operations and assess air threats, surface-to-air threats and ground threats.
“Our priority is delivering the Army and providing (combat air forces) support,” Mahan said. “This training forces us to consider questions like, ‘How are we not going to get shot down? What do we need to ensure the Army is safe when they hit the ground? How do we provide the effects that they need to execute their ground mission?’”
The unique training opportunity pushes participants to fully understand the conditions that must be set in order for mobility air forces to execute. It also equips course graduates with the skillset to dissect and solve complex problems quickly in order to communicate a response in a very short time frame, Mahan said.
“We don’t get the opportunity to train like this in the C-17 very often since we are both a strategic and tactical aircraft,” he said. “For us to be able to put on this kind of tactical-level training is paramount for us to continue to get the Army anywhere they need to be.”
JFE Vul is the culminating event for the five-month Weapons Instructor Course, which is held twice each year. Each student completes an average of 400 hours of graduate-level academics, along with demanding combat training missions, to become an “instructor of instructors.”
Students accepted into the school are already highly experienced instructors, usually in the grade of captain, who have been selected by a board to attend the rigorous course, Lawler said.
“Our motto is ‘build, teach, lead,’” Lawler said. “They will be considered joint battlefield integration tactical experts for their unit, tactical experts in their aircraft and experts in battlespace dominance by the end of the course.”