ENDEX: ‘Wild Weasels’ return from VIGILANT ACE 18

Wild Weasels take off during VIGILANT ACE 18

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan, takes off at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 6, 2017, during VIGILANT ACE 18. More than 280 Airmen and 18 F-16s from the 35th FW participated in the annual flying exercise, encompassing more than 12,000 personnel on the Korean Peninsula, further developing readiness and interoperability within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman)

Under the belly of an F-16 Fighting Falcon during VIGILANT ACE 18

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Antonio Manson, a 35th Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion craftsman, tends to an oil leak on an F-16 Fighting Falcon during VIGILANT ACE 18 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 6, 2017. VIGILANT ACE is an annual flying exercise, encompassing more than 12,000 personnel on the Korean Peninsula. More than 280 Airmen and 18 F-16s from the 35th Fighter Wing participated in the exercise, further developing readiness and interoperability within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman)

Routine maintenance during VIGILANT ACE 18

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenneth Gleason, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, conducts maintenance inspections on an F-16 Fighting Falcon during VIGILANT ACE 18 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 6, 2017. The 35th Fighter Wing relocated more than 280 personnel and 18 F-16 Fighting Falcons to further enhance the wing’s ‘fight tonight’ capability during the annual exercise held across the Korean Peninsula. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman)

Claw for luck during VIGILANT ACE 18

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Keefe McIntosh, a 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, throws up the “Panther Claw” to an oncoming F-16 Fighting Falcon during VIGILANT ACE 18 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 5, 2017. VIGILANT ACE 18 tested the abilities of 35th Fighter Wing pilots, maintainers and other supporting agencies to exercise rapid regional response within the Indo-Asia- Pacific region and sustain operations away from home station. VIGILANT ACE is an annual flying exercise encompassing more than 12,000 personnel on the Korean Peninsula. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman)

Towing Vipers during VIGILANT ACE 18

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron tow an F-16 Fighting Falcon into a hardened aircraft shelter during VIGILANT ACE 18 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 5, 2017. Maintainers and pilots worked together to manually push aircraft backwards due to the significant size difference between Osan AB HASs and those at Misawa AB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Miles above the ground, blue skies and white clouds acted as a gym for more than 230 aircraft over Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, last week. Among these aircraft, the 35th Fighter Wing used their Block 50 F-16 Fighting Falcons as another machine to strengthen and solidify training capabilities during VIGILANT ACE 18, which ended Dec. 8.

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors, F-35 Lightning IIs, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-15 Eagles, U.S. Navy F-18 Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, ROK F-15K Slam Eagles and F-4 Phantom IIs joined more than 12,000 service members across the Korean Peninsula, including 35th FW Airmen, to provide realistic air combat training with allies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.   

On a typical day, pilots flew twice, which required them to decrease flight preparation time while maintainers had to increase efficiency to keep up with the high-demand of aircraft.

“We cannot simulate this experience when we conduct routine exercises at Misawa,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Moeller, the 13th Fighter Squadron commander. “We are putting our personnel through a different, compressed timeframe, which will challenge their abilities to make decisions in a high-stress environment.”

Although exercises at Misawa AB test readiness at home, it is important for 35th FW personnel to rehearse in unfamiliar locations to ensure a seamless operational transition if called to forward-deploy at a moment’s notice.

“It is important to get this training because the learning we receive at this level is invaluable,” said Capt. Michael Reid, a 13th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot. “We are flying with a lot more aircraft, which are actively participating, rather than us having to simulate their specialties at Misawa AB. It is exciting to fly in these large strike packages and work to overcome issues we encounter.”

In addition to flying two missions a day, personnel donned mission-oriented protective posture gear, adding an additional aspect of difficulty compared to routine sorties flown at Misawa AB.

“Both ops and maintenance personnel received some quality training during VIGILANT ACE,” added Moeller. “Our Airmen have greatly exceeded my expectations and have continued to impressed me with their abilities to carry out our primary missions.”