Virginia Guard Airmen participate in exercise with French and British forces

A U.S. Air Force T-38 Talon, British Royal Air Force Typhoon, French air force Rafale and U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fly in formation as part of a Trilateral Exercise held at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Dec. 7, 2015. The 1st Fighter Wing hosted the exercise which focuses on operations in a highly-contested operational environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kayla Newman)

A U.S. Air Force T-38 Talon, British Royal Air Force Typhoon, French Air Force Rafale and U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fly in formation as part of a Trilateral Exercise held at Langley Air Force Base, Va., Dec. 7, 2015. The 1st Fighter Wing hosted the exercise which focuses on operations in a highly-contested operational environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kayla Newman)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — Members of the 192nd Fighter Wing participated in the inaugural trilateral anti-access/area denial exercise with the United Kingdom and French service members hosted Dec. 2-18, 2015, at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia.

More than 500 service members, consisting of approximately 225 personnel from the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard, 175 from the Royal Air Force and 150 from the French Air Force, gained a comprehensive understanding of integrated logistics, support requirements, capabilities and tactics associated with a joint operation of coalition front-line fighters during the 17-day exercise.

Airmen from the USAF, Virginia Air National Guard, RAF and the FrAF focused on tactical procedures in high threat environments through a variety of simulated adversary scenarios. Coalition maintainers from the three countries also participated in the training exercise utilizing a combination of resources from each country to better prepare for seamless wartime integration.

“We had within this exercise a building block approach for the scenario,” said Col. Thomas P. McAtee, 192nd Operations Group commander. “We begin with one-versus-one ‘dog fighting’ where the F-22s, Rafale and Typhoons were pitched against each other in visual maneuvering.”

McAtee explained that after these dog fights, the U.S., French and British pilots fought alongside each other against threat aircraft simulated by F-15Es from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and T-38s from Langley. They honed their skills with integrated tactics against increasingly more complex scenarios, while Tinker AFB Airmen provided the command and control during using their Airborne Warning and Control System E-3 aircraft.

“We have a mass coordination brief in the morning, but the overall mission is dictated by what the friendly forces want,” said 1st Lt. Christopher S. Stapleton, a Virginia Air National Guard T-38 aggressor mission pilot. “If the friendly forces want to perform an offensive counter air, then as defensive counter air, our job as the adversary is to defend a piece of land.”

Besides briefings and dogfights, Stapleton most enjoyed the camaraderie amongst the RAF and French forces.

“It doesn’t matter if they wear different uniforms or speak with accents; everybody has the same, air force-type personality,” said Stapleton. “It’s really neat to see that; so instantly we came together with common interests and had different things to talk about.”

Prior to each mission, a mass intelligence brief for pilots, maintainers and all other participating forces was prepared.

“I assisted our coalition partners throughout the exercise ensuring they had all of their intelligence briefings, slides, targets and threat documents,” said Capt. Elizabeth “Liz” Maksim, 192nd Operations Support Squadron intelligence specialist. “Along with active duty personnel from the 27th Fighter Squadron, I supported our partners with key materials so the pilots could plan their routes.”

Maksim thinks the biggest take-away from this exercise was the integration piece and how members from each country assumed responsibilities as mission commander during the exercise. She noted that it was a great learning opportunity as a traditional guardsman to see how the participants adjusted and worked their way through the challenges of mission planning.

McAtee believes the most important thing gained from this exercise is building a relationship with coalition partners.

“We are engaged right now in a fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; the UK and France are key partners in this fight,” said McAtee. “It’s essential that we have a strong partnership and learn to work together as we fight not just this one, but any potential battles that may happen in the future.”