June 21, 2017 (by SSgt. Miles Wilson) - As the sun slowly rose over the eastern horizon, 19 C-130 aircraft, both Hercules and Super Hercules models, made their way across the Nevada landscape. While the aircraft progressed towards their target, the gorges and canyons below seemed like nothing more than a web of cracks across the countryside.
A fleet of C-130 aircraft fly in formation to participate in an exercise outside of Nellis AFB on June 10, 2017. The Joint Forcible Entry exercise, known as JFE Vul, is hosted and led by students graduating from the United States Air Force Weapons School twice a year, and tested the ability for various units and aircraft platforms to work together in a contested degraded environment. [USAF photo by SSgt Miles Wilson]
A 94th Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules and its aircrew were among these planes and, along with more than 90 other aircraft, participated in the Joint Forcible Entry Exercise, hosted and led by the current graduating class of the United States Air Force Weapons School, to practice conducting large multi-platform operations within a contested degraded environment.
"The operation was to neutralize enemy forces within an area that severely limits our abilities, and then conduct aerial insertion of our own troops," said Capt. Brandon Calhoun, 700th Airlift Squadron aircraft commander. "We had to deal with radar and communications jamming while also being able to maneuver the aircraft and work with our crew."
The exercise, known as JFE Vul, utilized a large formation of aircraft to conduct low-level airdrops of ground troops within a simulated enemy environment, and included objectives such as neutralizing highly-sophisticated and well-coordinated defensive capabilities. While flying, the 700th AS pilots flew at low altitudes and performed evasive maneuvers, and also flew with a host of fighter and bomber aircraft, including A-10 Thunderbolts, F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, B-1 Lancers and B-52 Stratofortresses.
"During the exercise, we had to deal with air-to-air and surface-to-air threats," said Maj. Mike McNulty, 700th AS flight navigator. "The enemy also had infrared and radio frequency jamming capabilities."
To accomplish the simulated mission, the USAFWS put together an operation that hosted a number of different platforms, totaling to more than 100 participating aircraft and 40 participating units from across the U.S.
"There is a lot to be learned when integrating with other platforms," said Calhoun. "Actually using so many different aircraft with different capabilities really prepares you to operate efficiently in a real world operation, and it is a great learning opportunity to see how to make processes better."
Because of the massive scale of the exercise, the aircrew from Dobbins had to adapt and overcome challenges not usually present in training, and through those challenges were able to better understand what to expect if there was ever such a real-world situation.
"Communication was a huge challenge," said Calhoun. "When you have more than 100 aircraft, most on the same frequency, all doing different missions, there is a lot of information. You're constantly hearing statuses or mission calls, so you have to compartmentalize, filter, and determine what is important to your mission, all while piloting an aircraft, conducting maneuvers, and communicating with your own crew."
The exercise's execution lasted one day, but in that short time it allowed for the 94th AW to demonstrate its capability to support the Air Force's ability for air superiority and rapid global mobility, as well as acting in a joint command and control environment.