Our idea of air superiority is not that we win the fight like the RAF won the Battle of Britain, but that we win the fight in the other guy’s airspace. In Korea, we fought the air superiority battle over the Yalu River. In Vietnam, we fought it over Hanoi. In Desert Storm, we fought it over Baghdad. So no American soldier presently serving in the Army has ever been attacked by an enemy airplane.
– USAF General (ret.) Merrill A. McPeak

The importance of air dominance cannot be understated; it is an absolutely essential prerequisite for any modern day campaign to be effective. At the beginning of the Second World War, Germany’s Luftwaffe dominated the skies over France and Poland, stifling the ability for either country to sustain a viable defense. Even quicker to fall were Norway and Denmark. Later in the war, the British Royal Air Force repelled the Luftwaffe over England during the Battle of Britain, a decisive campaign for air superiority which helped turn the tide of the war.

Historically air power has been America’s asymmetric advantage too, according to retired Air Combat Command General John Corley. But, he says, everybody has figured that out, to include any potential adversaries.

Thus the need to continuously maximize the benefits of training scenarios – to get more bang for the buck – especially in the days of ever-tightening budget constraints and reductions in the fighter force.

Sentry Savannah seeks to do just that by providing focused, tailored, and cost-effective training for the Air National Guard warfighter. Part of the National Guard Bureau’s Regional Exercise (REX) program, the exercise is designed from the ground-up to get the traditional Drill Status Guardsman, or DSG, the training required to prepare them for going to war in a short amount of time.

148FW F-16 in traditional SEAD garb recovers to Savannah
148FW F-16 in traditional SEAD garb recovers to Savannah

With three other National Guard Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC) facilities around the United States focusing on other mission sets, the Savannah CRTC specializes in air-to-air training. To further reflect the significance of the USAF doctrine of dominating the skies, the Savannah CRTC was recently designated as the Air Dominance Center (ADC). It’s a tall order to live up to the name, but the staff at the ADC is committed to providing excellent training for the warfighter.

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Major Merrick “Pup” Baroni, an Operations Commander at the ADC, explains that “ANG units are as equally tasked as their active-duty counterparts regarding theater support and engaging in contingency operations to fill in the gaps between active-duty fighter squadron deployments. The South Carolina Air National Guard (SCANG) just got back last year, and the Florida Air National Guard (FANG) is deploying to Europe.”

“The challenge is, whether it’s a pilot or a maintainer, the Guard is traditionally a part-time force and you have personnel that need to get adequate training, so that’s the environment we’re trying to create here in Savannah. We want this exercise to be an accredited spin-up for deployment,” Maj. Baroni continues, “and we want every pilot and maintainer to leave here and say that it was an easy operation at the ADC, and that we got high quality training.”

SrA from the 113th Wing dons a mask during a chemical response drill during Sentry Savannah 15-1
SrA from the 113th Wing dons a mask during a chemical response drill during Sentry Savannah 15-1

A key factor in cultivating a constructive training environment is the ADC team’s dedication to providing focused training based on what each unit wants to accomplish during the exercise. Captain Brian “Mayhem” Phillips, the Exercise Director for Sentry Savannah and FANG F-15 Eagle pilot, was tasked with overall exercise responsibility and to ensure each unit’s needs were met.

“Each unit deploying to the ADC brings with it a unique training requirement and desired learning objectives (DLOs). We flew in a crew from the 266th Range Squadron (RANS) from Idaho and two ground radar emitters for the 148th FW to practice their Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) mission during the large-force exercise, which isn’t something they often get to do back home in Minnesota and it was a primary objective for them. The DC Guard pilots needed Close Air Support (CAS), so we incorporated that into the exercise as well utilizing the nearby Townsend Range,” says Captain Phillips.

Sentry Savannah 15-1

Three fighter units deployed to the ADC in February for Sentry Savannah 15-1, bringing 12 F-16s from Minnesota ANG’s 148th FW from Duluth, 10 F-16s from DC ANG’s 113th Wing, and 14 F-22 Raptors from the 43rd Fighter Squadron from Tyndall AFB. The B-course Raptor pilots were exposed to a variety of different mission sets while in Savannah, including their first Large Force Exercise (LFE) and Low-Observable (LO) escort missions, in which they escorted B-2s ingressing from their home station of Whiteman AFB.

014026_F22_TY_SAV_FEB15_P1FS

Captain Phillips describes F-22 participation as being “highly desired…we’re looking to be able to provide Fighter Integration (FI) training for everyone as it is a hard training square to fill for many units that don’t have F-22s near their home station.”

Also visiting from Tyndall were eight T-38C Talons from the 2nd Fighter Training Squadron, which flew as dedicated aggressors for the exercise. The other fighter units also augmented the red force as needed, and according to Captain Phillips, “our biggest fight was 24 blue versus 28 red…it’s a rather large and aggressive fight, but also a provided our forces a realistic scenario and problem to solve.”

In addition to a large number of fighters and approximately 1400 personnel deployed to the ADC, Montana ANG’s 120th Airlift Wing (AW) brought several of their C-130H Hercules tactical airlifters to augment the mobility capacity of the resident Georgia ANG’s 165th AW. Although the Savannah-based 165th AW has employed the C-130 for a number of years, Montana’s Vigilantes recently picked up the C-130 mission as they transitioned from operating the F-15 Eagle. Both units flew daily during the exercise and also carried out nighttime missions in support of Sentry Savannah.

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120AW "Vigilantes" C-130 starts up for a nighttime mission
120AW “Vigilantes” C-130 starts up for a nighttime mission

The action wasn’t just limited to the ADC ramp, as numerous other low-country units also participated in the Sentry Savannah exercise by flying from their home stations. Having units flying from various locations and meeting up in the airspace brings yet another level of realism to the exercise, since it would be rare for all the assets to fly from the same base when deployed downrange.

During 15-1, F-16CJs from SCANG’s 169th FW at McEntire Joint National Guard Base flew from their home station, as did F-15Cs from FANG’s 125th FW in Jacksonville, Florida. Also joining the fight were United States Marine Corps (USMC) F/A-18 Hornets and F-35B Lightning IIs which flew from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort.

It’s an added challenge as far as communication between geographically separated units, says Captain Phillips. “We have to ensure proper coordination for mission planning, brief, and debrief. Our secure video-teleconference and phone systems allow us to complete this task and provide the benefit of practicing off-station coordination.”

Stay tuned for part 2, as we take a look at what makes Savannah’s Air Dominance Center ideally suited for large-force exercises!

A 113th Wing F-16 taxies to EOR for an evening sortie
A 113th Wing F-16 taxies to EOR for an evening sortie