ELLSWORTH AFB, SD – Preparations for Ellsworth Air Force Base began over a year ago to play the home base for the aircrews during the Combat Raider.
Fighters from Goldsboro, North Carolina and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who take off from Ellsworth in tankers and the famous B-1B bombers.
The large-scale exercise also brings other combat, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms to the Powder River Training Complex, the Military Operations Area, or MOA, over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming.
“For such a high-powered exercise, we bring multiple weapon systems in and bring them into the same piece of sky, and that’s a logistical challenge,” said Captain Taylor Hiester, F-16 pilot with the 114 Operations Group in Sioux Falls.
Major Jason Williams flies the F-15E Strike Eagle with the 333rd Fighter Squadron in the town of Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. He says the new airspace, new base, and new mission sets give their students practice for real-life situations.
“They went through some of their curriculum assignments to really get them through the exam here at Ellsworth and really get them out of their comfort zone and into that zone,” said Williams.
It takes between 12-14 hours of mission planning to prepare for the 3-4 hour flight the next day.
“What that includes are the basic administrative parts of the flight,” said Williams. “You will cover the assets together and we will sit down and look at what goals we have so that we always work backwards from the goal.”
Captain Cody Gondek of the 34th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth says the B-1s plan for the payload and the commander’s called target. “We use Strike Eagles to drop bombs and the F-16s as escorts to get us in and out of the fight.”
“Your ultimate goal is to place bombs on time and accurately, as the Lobos always do,” said Hiester.
While the F-16s are a one-man crew, the F-15s work in pairs – a pilot in the front and a weapons systems officer in the rear.
“If I do my best as a pilot in the front seat and the weapons systems officer in the back seat does his best, the Strike Eagle is incredibly deadly,” said Williams.
“One reason the American military is the best force in the world is that we are so many People together who has have never met before the mission planning or even until you are To fly in the air and to fly within 300 meters of each other and still carry out the mission properly without loss, and that is our goal, ”said Hiester.