97 AMW integrates with USAF Weapons School for capstone

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cameron Silver
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Members of two flying squadrons from the 97th AMW participated in capstone training for students enrolled in the United States Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Nov. 29-Dec. 9, 2021.

The USAF Weapons School teaches graduate-level instructor courses that provide U.S. Air Force pilots with advanced training in weapons and tactics employment. The culmination of the course is the Advanced Integration Phase, consisting of various capstones in which multiple weapon systems simulate current and future threat arenas in challenging scenarios.

The 97th AMW participated in the Joint Forcible Entry (JFE) 21B capstone, codenamed Coyote Freedom 400. It is one of relatively few opportunities for the Mobility Air Force (MAF) to practice its airdrop mission set in a contested environment. Three C-17 Globemaster IIIs from the 58th Airlift Squadron, one KC-46 Pegasus from the 56th Air Refueling Squadron and a contingent of maintainers joined around 80 additional aircraft to execute the event.

As part of the airdrop and refueling echelons, the aircrew of the four AAFB aircraft dropped simulated cargo alongside C-130 Hercules’ and transferred 336,700 pounds of fuel to 38 aircraft.

While JFE provides students at the weapons school the opportunity to test and evaluate their mission plan before graduating the course, it also gives support units valuable experience. 

“It provides us at Altus the opportunity to practice integration with other MAF units and the opportunity to hone our skills when flying in large formations at low level and contested environments,'' said Tech. Sgt. Brock Wranik, 58th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. “This allows us to better teach these tactics and techniques to the next generation of aviators.”

Participating units also engaged in immense amounts of cross-talk and shared integration ideas, testing systems in a complicated airspace with diverse teammates they wouldn’t regularly interact with at their home stations.

“The level of training and experience gained by KC-46 crews attending (the scenario) was transformational for the KC-46 enterprise,” said Maj. Sean Shanahan, 56th Air Refueling Squadron instructor pilot. “Tactical Data Link (TDL) operations were seamless and gave crews expanded situational awareness not previously available to the MAF.”

TDLs are secure military communication standards that exchange tactical data between platforms and commands; a relatively new feature to military tankers. During the exercise, this capability of the KC-46 had a recognizable impact on the scenario, enabling increased situational awareness in a threat-rich environment. 

Participation in this exercise demonstrated the unique capabilities of Mobility’s Hometown weapon systems, opening the door for future interfly events with USAF Weapons School and other squadrons across the service.