CAMP DOUGLAS, Wis. – Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center once again proved itself as one of the foremost training environments in the nation as it hosted the second of two annual Northern Lightning training exercises August 12-23.
The installation accommodated more than 50 aircraft and approximately 1,500 Air Force, Navy, Marine, and National Guard personnel for an intense-two-week combat training exercise featuring some of the world’s most advanced aircraft.
This iteration of Northern Lightning featured nearly 20 units conducting air superiority training scenarios in a contested environment while focusing on support of ground forces, joint asset integration, and coordination between services.
“One of the challenges we face is assimilating new technology with older technology,” said Col. Bart Van Roo, exercise director. “It’s like trying to get a brand new smart phone to talk to a desktop computer. Both are very capable, and we want to ensure, first of all, that we can do it without glitches, and second of all, that we maximize the potential of all our technology so that the sum is greater than the parts.”
During the exercise 488 sorties were flown, approximately 90,000 gallons of tanker fuel was off loaded and thousands of ground tasks were executed at Volk Field, Hardwood Range, and Fort McCoy. Throughout the exercise simulated threats targeted aircraft from four different locations to replicate the fight aircraft would face with a near-peer adversary. Such an environment helps prepare pilots and crews from every branch of the military for the sort of environment they would face overseas. In the case of the Wisconsin Air National Guard participants, exercises like Northern Lightning are critical in preparing them for their federal mission as the primary combat reserve for the U.S. Air Force.
“We are trying to safely push the limits of training so that, in the event of a real combat scenario, our forces know how to react,” said Van Roo. “By exposing our forces to these challenges now in training, they can get practice, make mistakes and learn, so that in the future the pilots can accomplish the mission and go home to their families.”
Airframes participating in the exercise included: EA-18G, F-35A, F-35B, F-16B30, F-16B50, T-38, L-159, F-22, KC-135 and C-130. The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing flew its F-16 fighter planes at the exercise while Milwaukee’s 128th Air Refueling Wing participated with its KC-135 tankers.
Another challenge during the exercise is supporting all the personnel participating.
“People are the foundation of any military endeavor,” said Senior Master Sgt. Travis Skowronski, enlisted coordinator for the exercise. “We housed nearly 900 people on Volk Field and served more than 13,000 meals. Aircraft may be in the spotlight, but it is human beings who make all this happen.”
Northern Lightning is an annual joint total force exercise hosted by the Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center providing tailored, cost effective, tactical level and high end combat training. The exercise is focused on 4th and 5th generation aircraft integration in complex threat environments.
“This is the best training we've had in years. We got to do things that normally we could only do in a combat environment,” said Senior Master Sgt. Chuck Hansel of the 123rd Air Control Squadron, Ohio Air National Guard. “You can't get experiences like this unless you are deployed downrange. From a readiness and training perspective, Northern Lightning is second to none.”
The previous iteration of Northern Lightning was May 6-17.
Located in Juneau County near Camp Douglas, Volk Field CRTC is one of the premier training installations in the country due to its expansive airspace and the quality training the installation can simulate. The Wisconsin National Guard has operated a training facility here since 1888.