Some 6,000 U.S. military members have started the 2017 edition of the exercise Northern Edge which is taking place at the Gulf of Alaska and around central Alaska ranges from May 1-12.
NE17, a biennial Pacific Command contingency exercise, prepares joint U.S. forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
It is designed to sharpen participants’ tactical combat skills, improve command, control and communication relationships, and to develop interoperable plans and programs across the armed forces.
“Exercises like Northern Edge allow us to work together, talk together and fight together and it’s important to do so because that’s how we are going to deploy. No service can do it on their own,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stephen D. Driskill, the chief of staff at the Joint Electromagnetic Preparedness for Advanced Combat, U.S. Strategic Command. “We are able to gain different advantages and strengths from all the different services here; to make sure that we, as a department of defense, are able to get the best capabilities possible.”
Nearly 200 aircraft are participating, to include the F-35B Lightning II, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16C Fighting Falcon, FA-18D Hornet, EA-6B Prowler, KC-135 Stratotanker, and the KC-10 Extender aircraft.
The aircraft are joined by guided missile destroyers USS Hopper and USS O’Kane, and replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe (T-AO 200).
Aside from the sheer number of people and aircraft, the terrain also provides unique training advantages. The military training ranges in Alaska are collectively known as the JPARC, or Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. It includes 65,000 square miles of airspace, nearly 2,500 square miles of land space and 42,000 square nautical miles of surface, subsurface and overlying airspace in the Gulf of Alaska.
“Alaska provides a great training opportunity because of the training ranges that are here. We get some world class training that we really can’t replicate anywhere else in the United States,” said Driskill. “The amount of range and space and the setup and the support capabilities that we have here really all combine together to make the best training opportunity to really prepare ourselves for the type of fight that we may find in a near peer-environment or in different types of environments all around the world.”