Earlier this week, SOFREP covered a series of reported sightings of unusual lights in the skies above the United States.  What appeared to be either a single, massive alien space ship… or maybe a number of non-Independence Day sized crafts was shared on various social media platforms, and prompted a great deal of speculation regarding its source.  It wasn’t long before some clever internet sleuths were able to determine that the lights, spotted in the skies above towns from Missouri to Utah, were actually massive formations of American military supply planes conducting a training exercise known as a Joint Forcible Entry event, or JFEX.

These JFEX exercises serve as the capstone for the U.S. Air Force Weapons School Integration phase’s Class 17B, and simulates large-scale missions into enemy controlled territory, where U.S. Army paratroopers establish a presence on the ground and receive support in the skies by a combination of cargo plane resupplies and a fighter presence for close air support and anti-aircraft operations.

A JFE is one of the most complex mission sets we, the Mobility Air Forces, participate in,” said Capt. Tom Sallenger, 15th Airlift Squadron, 437th Operations Group commander’s action group. “The ultimate goal of a JFE is to support the Army and establish a lodgment in someone else’s air space. Our purpose for the JFE is to deliver the Army to an objective area to establish a U.S. presence. As part of the joint overall picture, we require support from the Combat Air Forces to get us into contested air space.”

What made the JFEX that took place over this past weekend so special, however, was that it was the largest one ever conducted, in keeping with a similar trend force wide.  This week, over 20,000 Marines from the 1ST Marine Division joined with 600 more Marine aviators from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Southern California to conduct the largest such combat exercise in 10 years for the Corps.  Last month, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division conducted training that included the recapture and defense of integral assets within the continental United States – the list goes on.  The United States has clearly demonstrated a shift in readiness strategy: we’re preparing for war of the good old-fashioned variety… we’re preparing for war against peer level states.

We flew in with 37 C-17s and 21 C-130s Hercules, pressed into contested air space, and fought our way in,” U.S. Air Force Maj. J.R. Wendler, 16th Airlift Squadron and 437th Operations Group director of staff, said of last weekend’s JFEX. “It requires a lot of integration with other assets, F-16s, and F-15s for example, to clear the lane for the MAF to get to the objective area, air drop and put in our joint partners, in this case the Army, to start building up combat power.”

With the situation escalating on the Korean peninsula and diplomatic opponents like China and Russia positioning themselves for a resurgence of Cold War era-like tensions, the decision to shift operational readiness strategies to allow for war with nation-level opponents seems strategically appropriate.  After nearly two decades of fighting a unique form of warfare, where our opponents are often hidden minority groups within larger populations, it would seem we may be seeing the end of an era devoted to preparing for the war we’re currently fighting – and a shift toward preparation for the wars the may be on the horizon.


Image courtesy of the U.S.  Air Force