510th FS F-16s and Marine Corps F-18s integrate to strengthen capabilities

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brooke Moeder
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

More than 200 U.S. Marines were deployed to Aviano AB, Italy, for approximately two months to integrate and train with the 510th Fighter Squadron as part of a dynamic force employment.

Throughout the integration, Marines from the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 (VMFA-323) flew F/A-18 Hornets alongside 510th F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots during each training opportunity. The deployment of the Marines has allowed pilots of both squadrons to test their knowledge and tactics against dissimilar aircraft.

“The integration has been seamless,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Douglas L. Cole, 510th FS A-Flight commander. “The Marines have been professional and disciplined both on the ground and in the sky. Their squadron has shown the capability of deploying in a quick and effective manner at a moment's notice.”

During each training, the pilots practiced “dogfighting”, where each squadron is aware of the other’s presence. This factor has necessitated the 510th FS pilots to explore new ways of thinking through a given problem set and develop new solutions, stated Cole.

“One F-16 would be paired with one F-18 and whoever gets ‘gunned’ loses,” said Cole.

As the training progressed throughout the weeks, a teamwork aspect was introduced. The teams fought as an element, meaning two F-16s or two F-18s worked together to defeat a threat as quickly as possible. After becoming proficient in element tactics, the squadrons moved onto fighting as a four-aircraft unit in a mission called defensive-counter-air, explained Cole.

“Similar to the defensive line in football, our mission is to defend a point on the ground from all air threats,” said Cole. “Should an enemy aircraft reach this point we would lose. This mission showed us that even if we are wearing different color jerseys, we can still fight together and win. With an element of F-16s and an element of F-18s, we defended the line and kept away the offense.”

During the flights there were opportunities to identify strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities, as well as sharpen skills and tactics between the squadrons.

“We've learned a lot about the capabilities and limitations of our two platforms working together,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Kyle Wilson, VMFA-323 executive officer. “There's a great cadre of pilots, both here and in the Marine Corps and it turns out despite the differences in some of our services, the level of professionalism is absolutely the same across the board.”

Joint operations allowed for each squadron to develop realistic training concepts and establish the necessary processes and relationships to smoothly deploy in the future, said Cole.

“We work with the Navy a lot, but we don't get as many opportunities to integrate with the Air Force,” said Wilson. “Normally, the only time we would get to integrate with [the Air Force] is at larger exercises in the U.S. This was an opportunity for us to get a little bit more time to work one-on-one with some of those pilots in a little bit of a different atmosphere.”

Without these integration opportunities to train in a more focused environment between the two branches, experience would be lost that could be needed in future scenarios.

“Anytime you train in a vacuum you miss opportunities to learn new things and then you'll inevitably miss something,” Wilson described. “With our opportunities here, we've been able to identify some strengths and weaknesses that maybe we wouldn't have seen otherwise and then be able to better integrate with the F-16 specifically in the future.”

Ultimately, the training mission was successful. Marines and Airmen worked together despite their differences in aircraft and training and came together to complete the mission.

“Flying with the Marines, in many ways, was reassuring,” said Cole. “I saw firsthand how different services, with the many differences associated, still have a common foundation when it comes to flying combat aircraft. Should the situation arise in which I'm tasked to fight alongside them in wartime, I know that we have the ability to execute the mission successfully together.”