Photo Information

A Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, F/A-18D Hornet descends to Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido, Japan, after traveling from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Jan. 12, 2016. VMFA (AW)-224, homebased at MCAS Beaufort, S.C., is temporarily based in Iwakuni on a unit deployment program and deployed to Northern Japan to participate in the Chitose Aviation Training Relocation Exercise, Jan. 12-22. During the exercise, the squadron conducted dissimilar air combat training with and against the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to further support combined interoperability and Pacific theater security cooperation.

Photo by Cpl. Jessica Quezada

Fighting Bengals soar pacific skies with Japanese pilots

14 Jan 2016 | Cpl. Jessica Quezada Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan

Marines with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, homebased at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., and currently forward based at MCAS Iwakuni, conducted dissimilar air combat training during the Chitose Aviation Training Relocation exercise at Chitose Air Base, Japan, Jan. 12-22, 2016.

In order to support Pacific theater security cooperation, the F/A-18D Hornet squadron, known as the “Fighting Bengals,” performed DACT with and against Japan Air Self-Defense Force counterparts and developed the operational readiness of U.S. and Japanese forces.

“DACT is defined as air-to-air combat against a different aircraft platform that is usually out of sight,” said Capt. Seth Byrum, pilot training officer with VMFA (AW)-224. “Due to limitations in Iwakuni, we can typically only train against other F-18s as the aggressor aircraft. DACT gives us the ability to simulate air-to-air combat training against a dissimilar aircraft like the JASDF’s F-15J/DJ Eagles.”

Due to the diverse aircraft and aviation platforms provided, VMFA (AW)-224 successfully executed basic fighter maneuvers, section engaged maneuvers, aircraft tactical intercepts and offensive/defensive counter air missions in a disparate environment to their home station in South Carolina.

“Basic fighter maneuvers are just one versus one aircraft type of fight, starting in a neutral position, so no one has a clear advantage from the beginning,” said Capt. Alexander Blank, a VMFA (AW)-224 pilot. “The goal is to become offensive on the aircraft and deploy simulated weapons.”

Offensive and defensive basic fighter maneuvers are performed during air combat maneuvers, also known as “dogfighting.” This type of aerial warfare is actually the art of maneuvering a combat aircraft in order to obtain a positive offensive position on the enemy.

“Section engaged maneuvers are two versus one, or two versus two aircrafts, and is a little bit more intensive as far as task saturation due to multiple aircraft in the sky,” said Blank. “Aircraft tactical intercepts are when we intercept aircraft that is out of our sight to get into an offensive position either to employ weapons or identify them as a hostile, and then employ weapons. Working with and against the Japanese F-15s … gives us the opportunity to train against an aircraft we may not have a lot of experience with. … They have very different capabilities as far as their maneuverability, power and weapons systems, and they are much more conservative with their training than U.S. forces are.”

Chitose ATR provided a unique opportunity for this East Coast squadron to dogfight against their Japanese counterparts in a profoundly different climate as they continue their tour with the unit deployment program that sends U.S. based units on a six-month rotation around the Pacific.

“We aren’t use to flying in this cold weather and the snow, but the jets tend to perform much better in this cold weather,” said Blank. “The engines exert more thrust and we get more response from flight controls. The only downside is Chitose AB is an unfamiliar airfield. ... We are unfamiliar to the area, and here, we have to deal with the language barriers. This definitely brings out some skills that we do not use that often.”

As pilots performed tactical movements and missions in the Northern Japan skies, aviation engine mechanics, airframers, ordnancemen, avionics and maintenance administrators worked behind the scenes to ensure the Fighting Bengals and JASDF aviators had a solid foundation to execute their maneuvers effectively.

“Without the maintainers, the aircraft can’t fly safely,” said Lance Cpl. Zackery Miller, a power liner plane captain with VMFA (AW)-224. “Pilots probably wouldn’t get the training that they need or many flight hours. Due to the weather change … which is much colder than South Carolina, this environment brings about issues we don’t always deal with. Parts wear out faster and they need to be replaced more often here, and there are different standard operating procedures we follow just to preserve the aircraft as much as we can. We have a good crew out here … and being able to have the resilience to get the job done helps our mission success too.”

This training better prepares U.S. and Japan forces to work together in the future as both allies continue to practice tactical procedures and techniques, enhance bilateral interoperability and build fundamental relationships.

“Without this ATR exercise, we have less opportunity to train with the U.S., so I believe this training will help us bond and execute our operational capabilities,” said Maj. Atsuya Shimatani, chief of public relations office, administrative department for JASDF.