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Shadows in the night: 20th FW employs SCEWR in new, dynamic airspace exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Madeline Herzog
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A distinct humming sound surrounds you as you fall asleep. The consistent hum is unusual for this hour and piques your interest. The clock says 1 a.m., and you ask yourself, “what am I missing?”

The noise is that of 18 F-16 Fighting Falcons taking off from the base, rattling the installation as they launch into a new, improved training environment and employ high-level training tactics in a never-before practiced construct.

During the week of Feb. 13, the 20th Fighter Wing (FW), with the assistance of a U.S. Air Force 6th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew based out of MacDill Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, personnel from the U.S. Air Force 337th Air Control Squadron based out of Tyndall AFB, Florida, personnel from the U.S. Air Force 552nd Air Control Wing based out of Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), successfully accomplished the crucial next step in an innovative initiative that is building the premier East Coast training environment to prepare Wild Weasels, fighter pilots, and combat aircrew for current and future combat operations, by conducting a large force exercise in the middle of the night and using local airspace in new ways.

Just three months after meeting with the FAA in preliminary talks at Jacksonville Air Route Control Center, Shaw successfully launched 18 sorties in rapid succession to integrate with partner units for a large force employment scenario as part of the South Carolina Electronic Warfare Range (SCEWR) strategy.

SCEWR provides 20th FW pilots with improved and more realistic training by enabling the use of expanded airspace and different surface-to-air threat emitters during the early morning hours of the night when commercial air traffic is sparse, in contrast to the limited size and altitude of the standard military use airspace construct in South Carolina and along the Eastern seaboard.

This boost in shared airspace takes the world-class training Wild Weasel pilots already receive to an even greater level, better preparing them for potential future combat scenarios.

The exercise went beyond testing the capabilities of the 20th FW pilots and maintainers, and also tested the scope of airspace and training threat emitters at different ranges, better replicating Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) threats that combat aircrew could face from potential adversaries.

“It’s a historic moment for the 20th Fighter Wing,” said Lt. Col. Joshua “Chunk” Moffat, 20th Operations Support Squadron commander and SCEWR visionary. “For multiple years, we’ve been attempting to improve our training environment, and through some collaboration with our partners of total force, including the South Carolina Air National Guard, the U.S. Air Force Reserves and the FAA, we were able to receive a large amount of airspace for a large-force exercise.”

The 20th FW’s collaboration with Jacksonville Center capitalized on the night timeframe to take advantage of less congested commercial air traffic and creatively expand airspace over the ocean. This allowed pilots to surge airspace profiles and accomplish supersonic training not normally conducted in standard training airspace.

“Some of the training airspace on the West Coast connects geographically separated airspace in the middle of the night, when there is not a lot of air traffic, so they can have a much larger airspace to train in,” said Moffat. “We took that model and applied it here, connecting several local airspace and range complexes to create a much larger environment for us to train to a modern threat. We believe the future of airspace is sharing and time and not just trying to take more overall.”

The SCEWR initiative is a direct result of Airmen at the 20th FW striving to provide the highest quality, most realistic training to pilots, aircrew and maintainers.

While the pilots experienced a new level of training in the air, maintainers also reaped benefits of the exercise.

“It is our job as maintainers to provide combat-ready, safe aircraft at any time and any place the mission dictates,” said Col. Angela Edmondson, 20th Maintenance Group (MXG) commander. “From our perspective, this was about the flexibility required to bring our capabilities to bear at a different time of the day. This was an excellent opportunity to show that we can be flexible and to push ourselves to be a little uncomfortable. It was a great way for the Airmen to test that in a safe and controlled environment and give ourselves the ability to grow.”

The 20th MXG ensured all five different squadrons, totaling nearly 1800 Airmen, were ready and able to flex their unique capabilities at the same time during the exercise.

“The SCEWR initiative is a perfect example of one of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.'s commonly used phrases, ‘We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,'" said Edmondson.

“There is a distinct difference between being uncomfortable and being unsafe. As maintenance leaders, it's our responsibility to provide an environment where our Airmen can figure that out and learn that they can still be safe and also push themselves beyond the limit they thought they had. SCEWR provided us an exceptional scenario to test this in a home station training environment.”

The Wild Weasels used several surface-to-air emitter sites that replicated enemy surface-to-air radars, which allowed pilots to use the reserved airspace and train as if they were going up against real enemy threat systems, as well as train against adversarial aircraft represented by a portion of the 20th FW team.

“We [had] this combined surface-to-air and air-to-air threat [we were] training against, which we don't normally get the opportunity to do based on the size of our airspace,” said Moffat.

The implementation of SCEWR brings together the flying community, the civil engineer squadron, operations support personnel, and weapons and tactics specialists in the South Carolina Range Assessment Team to contrive the best possible training environment to produce combat-ready pilots who can get after the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses mission.

“Here at the 20th FW, we are laser-focused on readiness for whatever we are tasked to do by our military and civilian leaders, and we hope to show that this SCEWR initiative can add value to our training on a regular basis,” said Moffat. “The end goal of all of this is to be ready against a modern adversary.”

According to Moffat, this program is ultimately a joint effort that will benefit not only Shaw AFB, but the wider joint team in South Carolina and across the East Coast. It integrates 20th FW assets with the FAA, the 169th FW at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, and in the future, has the potential to involve joint partners across the state, such as aviation units from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

Col. Kristoffer Smith, the 20th Fighter Wing commander, shares that vision.

“The SCEWR initiative is shaping the future of our combat training and will enable us to continue to outpace our adversaries by creating an ideal training environment right here on the East Coast–not just for us, but for our partners across the state and across military services,” said Smith.

“Our Airmen have put an immense amount of time and creativity into transforming our current available training construct into one that will further challenge our pilots and prepare them to face any real-world scenario downrange, all with the help of our partners at the FAA. I’m proud to say we’ve taken the next step to modernize and create the U.S.’s next world-class training range, right here at Shaw.”