Active duty and guard service members and aircraft from across the nation participated in the 2016 Northern Lighting Exercise at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wisconsin, Aug. 22-Sept. 2.
The two-week exercise allowed more than 1,000 service members and both fourth and fifth generation aircraft an opportunity to train together — including the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-18 Growler, F-18 Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning.
"They came to Volk Field because of the premier training environment here," said Col. Chad Milne, Wisconsin director of operations. "The Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center offers exceptional air space and ranges. This allows us to provide high-end, scenario-based, full-spectrum training across multiple mission sets that all of the participants here train to."
The exercise also provided training opportunities for the Army and Navy.
"One of the highlights for Northern Lightning 2016 was the integration between the different service components that are here," Milne said. "When we deploy over in a combat zone, oftentimes we don't get the opportunity to train with those individuals before we go. Well, an exercise like this is a great opportunity for the units to gain that experience."
"This was the first squadron-sized deployment for their squadron or for the F-35 aircraft," he said. "It's been great to have them here. For our pilots and the Navy pilots to be able to integrate with fifth generation assets in our air space is something that we're very proud of. Having the F-35 here allows us to have valuable training."
During the second week of the exercise, military and civic leaders gathered at Volk Field to learn about how the exercise integrated fourth and fifth generation aircraft to meet training objectives. Capt. Brian Burgoon, 58th Fighter Squadron weapons officer, shared his insight on the training that the F-35 squadron was able to accomplish during the exercise.
According to Burgoon, the F-35's standard formation takes up a 40-mile-wide piece of air space to deploy. The standard air space they schedule on a regular basis is a 40-mile by 100-mile swath of air space.
"Northern Lightning, the air space that we're fighting in up here, has that capability where we're able to schedule that air space pretty much from the surface up to 50,000 feet, and we're able to get a full-on presentation that we would expect in a combat scenario," Burgoon said.
The other distinct training capability Northern Lighting gave pilots was physical ground to fly above.
"Yes, we can find a lot of those large pieces of air space over the water," he said. "We operate down at Eglin, where there's a lot of water range in the gulf so that we get those type of large air spaces, but the hard thing or the difficult thing to come upon is the ground emitters. When you're over the water, you can't simulate the sands or surface to air threats with emitters. Here, over the land space at Northern Lighting, we have that large swath of air space, but we also have integrated emitters so that we can train to a full-spectrum warfare and be targeted by surface-to-air threats."
Hardwood Range's close proximity gave the pilots in attendance another capability — a chance to use ordnance.
"Out at the range the impact area is also located within the fighter air space here, so we're able to not only fight in a large air space with threat emitters, but we're also allowed to employ ordnance," he said.
This was the largest F-35 deployment that the squadron has executed up to this point.
"We've been able to bring 14 jets up here from Eglin, and through our maintenance and as a testament to how reliable our jet is, we've also been able to fly more sorties than we normally do at home station," Burgoon said. "Overall, this has been a really unique training opportunity for us."
The aircraft in attendance logged 540 sorties during the exercise, and employed 75 munitions on the range.