1st Lt. Ryan Martelly, right, a 56th Rescue Squadron pilot, exchanges a high-five with another pilot. (Airman 1st Class Trevor T. McBride / Air Force)
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An HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron taxis the runway in November. The 56th RQS participated in electronic warfare training over the RAF Spadeadam test range in England. (Airman 1st Class Trevor T. McBride / Air Force)
The push to train for more anti-access, area-denial threats — where an enemy has advanced weapons that aim to keep U.S. aircraft and warships at bay —has largely focused on fighter pilots and bombers who would be the first sent into those environments.
But what if those pilots need help?
Pave Hawk pilots, crews and pararescuemen with the 56th Rescue Squadron out of RAF Lakenheath, England, have been putting their choppers to the test, training to grab a pilot behind the lines of a modern enemy — an enemy with advanced radar and electronic warfare equipment that could put the rescue crews in danger of being spotted and shot down.
“It is important for rescue crews to be able to perform their mission in an A2/AD environment because an isolating incident can occur anywhere at any time,” said Lt. Col. Jared Herbert, commander of the 56th Rescue Squadron.
In late November, the squadron took its HH-60G Pave Hawks to the RAF Spadeadam test range in northern England, which specializes in training aircraft crews in threat environments. For five days, the rescue crews and members of the 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron participated in test rescue missions.
Crews training to work in anti-access/area-denial do not provide details on the specific missions for security reasons, but Herbert said the training on a more advanced range “allows for a level of realism that cannot be attained without the advanced training aides. The Spadeadam range allows crews to apply tactics, techniques and procedures in a controlled environment so crews can learn with reduced operational risk.”
Training for missions in areas with more advanced threats is a priority in major commands across the Air Force. In 2010, Air Combat Command began “Readiness Project 2” for training in the continental U.S. that focuses on flight in a contested environment. The training includes operating on ranges that can deny GPS use, data links and other communications.
The training also is important for Pacific Air Forces because troops assigned to that command are at the front of the shift to the possible advanced adversaries in that region — after more than a decade of operating at relative ease in the Middle East.
“Anything more than eight feet off the ground we owned in Iraq and Afghanistan. We did. We could operate with impunity,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, Pacific Air Forces commander, said last summer. “The potential in other environments to have that kind of sanctuary is nonexistent.”
For the 56th Rescue Squadron and other Pave Hawk crews, training like this is becoming routine despite tight budgets. U.S. Air Forces in Europe personnel are finding new ways to train with host nations and use ranges such as Spadeadam.
While this training may not replicate exercises such as Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., it can still be beneficial to troops and comes at a reduced cost.
“The hospitality of our U.K. partners and outstanding facilities enable rescue forces to exercise and train to a skill set norm-ally accomplished at stateside [temporay-duty] locations,” Herbert said, highlighting the higher cost of shipping aircraft and crews back to the U.S. against paying for the comparatively short trip from the south of England to the north.
The crews that flew in the recent training said it is rare to be able to fly in an A2/AD environment, and it took a week of preparation for the training, which included outfitting the aircraft and crews with survival gear and equipment such as night-vision goggles.
“This is my first time in 4½ years of flying helicopters that I have had a chance to do this training,” Capt. Sky Jenson, a 56th RQS weapons and tactics officer, said in a USAFE release.