JOINT BASE ELMENDORF RICHARDSON, Alaska — Thousands of members of the nation's armed services are participating in this year's Operation Northern Edge, Alaska's largest military exercise, over the next week and a half.
Crews at Anchorage's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson conducted final inspections on Navy and Air Force F/A-18 and F-15 fighter jets Thursday morning before takeoff. The fighters are just a few dozen of more than 100 planes taking part in the biennial war-games exercise.
Likewise, the pilots and crews at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are only part of the 6,000 people involved in Northern Edge across the state and around the world. The military says 13 ships from the Navy and Coast Guard are in the Gulf of Alaska, more than 1,000 people are participating at Eielson Air Force Base and many others are participating virtually across 11 time zones.
"Effectively, we're training to the very high end of the warfare spectrum: those most common, complex high-technology tasks that require a lot of high-end assets, like fighters, cruisers and destroyers," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Cabral.
Every year of Northern Edge has essentially the same mission, simulating a response to a major act of war or attack against the U.S., but this year the military says there are a few new elements.
"The Navy brought their E/A-18G, the Growler," Cabral said. "It's their newest fighter jammer aircraft; it has a very broad range of electronic attack and electronic warfare capabilities. That's a first for us in the exercise."
Cabral says each year also comes with its challenges because of constantly changing technology.
"We don't necessarily always have equipment that can talk to each other easily," he said. "So (we have to) find ways to link up those communication systems to share and exchange data."
The roar of jet engines has become a familiar sound to Alaskans over the years, and the military says Alaska is the ideal location for an operation of this scale.
"We can't accomplish an exercise of this magnitude anywhere else in the world," Cabral said. "Just the huge amount of land-space geography that it takes to do this type of event, it's very realistic of the real world."
Northern Edge 2011 continues through June 24, and those who live near JBER will hear increased jet rumbling for a while. Private pilots are encouraged to use extra caution due to the increased air traffic and file a flight plan.
Contact Todd Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org