COPE NORTH 2017 Andersen AFB – Guam

 report by : Danny Bonny


Guam is an island located in the Philippine Sea approximately halfway between southern Japan and northern Australia.  It is the largest and most southern of the Marianas Islands and the largest Island in Micronesia.  The population is around 170,000 inhabitants, with a huge US Military presence on the island comprising over 30% of the total land area. Of the various installations present, Andersen Air Force base in the north east of the Island is the largest.

In February this year three countries, consisting 31 units, 100+ aircraft and over 2,700 service personnel descended onto Andersen AFB, Guam for the start of Exercise Cope North 2017.  Organised and hosted by the United States Air Force (USAF) Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), the three regional allies, USA, Japan and Australia once again joined together for this annual exercise.  For Cope North 2017 there were two main exercise objectives:

1)  Air combat training including both air to air and air to ground combat plus the culmination of a large force employment Air Combat Exercise utilising Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT).

2)  Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training involving separate scenarios with the emphasis on specific medical support and aero-medical evacuations.  This phase would involve practising joint flight manoeuvres, low level flying, tactical take off / landings and low level airdrops.

The purpose of each attending air arm was to advance their communication skills, increase interoperability between the units and share procedures; in turn this would enhance the skills base of their service personnel and improve co-operation in short notice deployments and operations if called upon by their individual governments.  Since a large proportion of all humanitarian crises and disasters occurs in the Indo-Asia Pacific Region, it is in the interests of all to pursue more efficient interoperable relationships through integration of airborne and land-based command and control assets.

Taking centre stage in the desire for improved unit interoperability, exercises lasting three to five days took place utilising the smaller outlying islands of the Northern Marianas of Tinian and Rota.  The brief being was that these islands had been hit by an earthquake and serious flooding.  Military assets would then be used to assist, stabilise and manage the population until the situation could be handed back to civilian agencies once they were in situ within the impacted area and fully functional.  2017 saw the return of the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson AFB, Alaska with Air Combat training taking place parallel to the humanitarian relief exercises.  Each day saw the squadron of multi-coloured Block 30D F-16C/D aircraft launch numerous missions against different adversaries.  These included Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18A Hornets, Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) F-15MJ and F-2A aircraft plus USAF assets based in Japan (F-16C/D’s from Misawa AB and F-15C Eagles from Kadena AB).  In addition, the US Navy brought their electronic adversary, the EA-18G Growler, operating with VAQ-135.  This unit had been temporarily detached to Misawa AB during the previous few months.  Taking advantage of the benefits of such intense training, VMFA(AW)-225 represented the US Marine Corps contribution with their F/A-18D Hornets. Air refuelling was conducted by the venerable KC-135R operated by the USAF’s 909thARS normally based out of Kadena AB.  Alongside these 50 year-old plus aircraft were the comparatively “new kids on the block”, the JASDF KC767J, first delivered in 2008.

Located on an adjacent ramp were Hercules tactical transport aircraft from all three countries, the USAF and JASDF providing a C-130H and the RAAF a C-130J.  The Airborne Control assets were situated further along, one of these being the E-7A Wedgetail, recently acquired by the RAAF and based out of Williamtown AB, NSW.  It operated in tandem with the USAF’s 3rd Wing E-3C Sentry aircraft from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.  At present, there being a high demand for surveillance assets in the Pacific Region:  consequently the 3rd Wing had borrowed and put into operation two aircraft from the home of the AWACS mission, the 552ndACW, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.  Finally, Japan supplied two E-2C Hawkeye aircraft from Misawa AB and each day two of the three countries assets were being launched a minimum of twice a day. Lastly, the revered B-1B from the 7th Bombardment Wing / 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron was present, having deployed from Dyess AFB, Texas.   The accompanying 300 Airmen and six aircraft arrived 6th February as part of the US Pacific Command (PACOM) Continual Bomber Presence (CBP).  Incorporating the B-1B into PACOM operations exercises enhanced the USAF’s ability to operate with its regional allies in the Pacific theatre of operations.  The CBP has been maintained at Andersen AFB since 2004, where USAF bombers such as the B-1, B-52 and B-2 have been on continuous deployment providing round the clock security in the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

Cope North 2017 participants comprised:

United States Air Force

B-1B                      7th Bomb Wing / 9th Expeditionary Bombardment Squadron   Dyess AFB, Texas

C-130H                 374th Airlift Wing / 36th Airlift Squadron                                             Yokota AB, Japan

KC-135R               18th Wing / 909th Air Refuelling Squadron                                         Kadena AB, Japan

E-3C                      3rd Wing / 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron                             Elmendorf AFB, AK

F-15C                    18th Wing / 67th Fighter Squadron                                                        Kadena AB, Japan

F-16C/D               35th Fighter Wing / 14th Fighter Squadron                                        Misawa AB, Japan

F-16C/D               354th Fighter Wing / 18th Aggressor Squadron                                Eielson AFB, Alaska

United States Navy

EA-18G                VAQ-135 ‘Black Ravens’                                                              NAS Whidbey Island, Washington

United States Marine Corps

F/A-18D               VMFA(AW)-225 ‘Vikings’                                            MCAS Miramar, California

Royal Australian Air Force

F/A-18A/B          3 Squadron (aircraft from 3 Sqn, 2 OCU, 75 Sqn & 77 Sqn)  Various bases

C-130J-30            37 Squadron                                                                     RAAF Richmond, NSW

E-7A                      2 Squadron                                                                       RAAF Williamtown, NSW

Japan Air Self Defence Force

C-130H                 1st Yuso Kokutai / 401st Hikotai                                               Komaki AB

KC767J                 1st Yuso Kokutai / 404th Hikotai                                              Komaki AB

E-2C                      Hiko Keikai Kanshigan / 601st Hikotai                     Misawa AB

U-125A                Koku Kyunandan / Komatsu Kyunantai                Komatsu AB

F-2A                      8th Kokudan / 8th Hikotai                                           Tsuiki AB

F-15J                     83rd Kokutai / 304th Hikotai                                       Naha AB

Globalairpower had the great honor to participate to the media-day and media flight of this COPE NORTH 2017 edition, under the responsability of the Pacific Air Force Public Affairs Officer: Major Phillip Ventura . I would like personnaly to thank: Captain Jessica Clark  36 Wing Public Affairs Officer and MSgt John White, 35thFighter Wing PAO; for their constant attention and great professionalism .