Combat Raider tests aircrews’ mission planning, execution in multi-platform exercise
ELLSWORTH AFB, S.D. — The prepping began over a year ago for Ellsworth Air Force Base to play home base to visiting aircrews during Combat Raider.
Fighters from Goldsboro, North Carolina and Sioux Falls, South Dakota launching from Ellsworth with tankers and the familiar B-1B bombers.
The large-scale exercise also brings in other fighter, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms to the Powder River Training Complex, the military operations area, or MOA, over the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming.
“For a large-force exercise like this, we’re bringing in multiple weapons systems and we’re putting them in the same piece of sky and that’s a logistical challenge,” said Capt. Taylor Hiester, F-16 pilot with the 114th Operations Group in Sioux Falls.
Maj. Jason Williams flies the F-15E Strike Eagle with the 333rd Fighter Squadron in town from Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina. He says the new airspace, new base, and new mission sets give their students practice for real-world situations.
“They’ve been going through a few of their sorties that are in their syllabus to really put them through the test out here at Ellsworth and really get them out of their comfort zone and into this zone,” said Williams.
It takes between 12-14 hours of mission planning to prep for the 3-4 hour flight the next day.
“What goes into that is the basic admin parts of flight,” said Williams. “They’ll cover the assets together and we’ll get together and look at what target sets we have so we always work from the target backwards.”
Capt. Cody Gondek of the 34th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth says the B-1s plan for the payload and target called upon by the Commander. “We use Strike Eagles to drop bombs and the F-16s as escorts so they’ll get us in and out of the fight.”
“Their number one goal is to get bombs on time and on target like the Lobos always do,” said Hiester.
While the F-16s are a single-person crew, the F-15s work in pairs – one pilot up front and one weapons systems officer in the back.
“If I’m doing the best I can in the front seat as a pilot and the weapons systems officer is doing the best that he or she can in the back seat, the Strike Eagle is incredibly lethal,” said Williams.
“One reason the American military is the finest fighting force in the world is that we can put a lot of different people together who’ve never met each other prior to the mission planning or even until they’re in the air and fly within 1,000 feet of one another and still execute the mission properly without any losses and that’s our goal,” said Hiester.