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148th Fighter Wing supports NORAD’s Arctic air defense exercise

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Crystal Kirchner
  • 148th Fighter Wing

The 148th Fighter Wing “Bulldogs'' are no strangers to extreme cold.  Last week they were able to test their capabilities in Canada and Greenland, proving the ability to operate in a multinational environment with an advanced mission set, to include sub-zero weather conditions.

On the morning of March 20, 2021, four F-16’s and 45 airmen departed Duluth, Minn., to participate in a six-day North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) arctic air defense exercise that spanned from the Beaufort Sea to Thule, Greenland, and extended south down the Eastern Atlantic to the U.S. coast of Maine. The exercise provided an opportunity to hone homeland defense skills as Canadian, U.S. and NATO forces operated together in the Arctic.

The Bulldogs arrived at their first destination in Yellowknife, Canada, and less than 36 hours later a small team forward-deployed to Thule Air Base, Greenland. In both locations, Airmen collaborated and trained with the Royal Canadian Air Force, the 140th Fighter Wing out of Denver, Colo., and the 133rd Airlift Wing out of St. Paul, Minn. where they focused on increasing small team tactical proficiency in the arctic. Pilots flew tactical missions over the Nunavut province and through the coastal fjords of Greenland, security forces personnel defended military operating zones, aircraft maintenance personnel worked to maintain mission-capable aircraft, and together all were able to advance military capabilities. 

“NORAD’s most recent Arctic live-fly exercise utilizing Canadian, U.S. and NATO forces enabled our Airmen to hone their Agile Combat Employment (ACE) skill sets to defend North America across the high north,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, Continental U.S. NORAD Region. “We are grateful to the highly professional and experienced Bulldog team of Airmen. They deployed and executed operations demonstrating NORAD’s extensive capability to provide aerospace warning and defense.”

This was the 148th Fighter Wing’s first-time deploying F-16 Fighting Falcons to exercise Agile Combat Employment and Dynamic Force Employment concepts. 

“This is just the beginning and we will take the lessons we learned from this experience and continue to develop our ACE capabilities in the future,” explained 179th Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Paul Thornton. “In order to maximize the effectiveness of ACE, we need our Airmen to embrace becoming multi-functional Airmen. The way we did our jobs 10 years ago, five years ago or even last year is not the way we will do our jobs in the future. There will be more emphasis put on developing agile Airmen who are capable of operating outside of their specialty. We all need to embrace the culture of, ‘what can I do to help this mission succeed’.”

The Arctic’s austerity requires specialized training and acclimation by both personnel and material as temperatures reached -57 degrees Fahrenheit with wind-chill during the first week of Spring. Being able to survive and operate in extreme cold weather is imperative for contingency response or combat power generation. People and machines do not operate well in extreme cold and winter months are continuously dark and much colder.

While deployed, some Airmen served in their traditional specialty roles as well as transitioned to secondary roles. Tech. Sergeant Jesse Bergman explained that “part of the day a person could be performing security tasks and later in the day they could be performing their primary role of working on aircraft. It’s a new concept, and the more we do it, the better we will get at it.” 

The Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. emphasized in the concept document Accelerate Change or Lose that, “Having multi-capable Airmen who are able to perform a diverse range of duties and responsibilities enhances mission effectiveness and allows for this style of small team movement and mission execution to be possible.” He expressed, “this skill-set is critical as the Air Force continues to prioritize improving capabilities and being agile while adapting to the future.”

Col. Chris M. Blomquist, 148th Fighter Wing commander, said, “As the northernmost fighter wing in the Air National Guard, I expect us to operate more in the arctic in the future in order to counter an ever-increasing arctic presence by our near-peer competitors. Our national security depends on our ability to operate in arctic regions and the Bulldogs are up to the challenge.”