Earlier in February, the US conducted Cope North 21, a large-scale air exercise that involved close to 100 aircraft from three different nations.
In total, more than 2,000 troops and 95 aircraft from Australia, Japan, and the United States participated in Cope North 21. The U.S. was represented by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.
For example, the 35th Fighter Wing sent 15 F-16 fighter jets, while four F-35As from Eielson Air Force Base flew from Alaska to take part in the exercise.
The first week of the exercise focused on strike mission training and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The second week honed on air combat tactics and large formation employment training.
Cope North 21 was held at Andersen Air Force Base (AFB) and lasted for almost three weeks (February 3-19).
“We have ten tri-lateral goals that we are aiming to achieve during Exercise Cope North 2021,” U.S. Air Force Colonel Jared Hutchinson, the training event’s exercise director, said in a press release. “The overarching goal is to advance the readiness and interoperability of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force, and United States Air Force by planning and executing safe and effective Combat Air Force Large Force Employment operations, as well as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response operations.”
The annual Cope North 21 is one of the most important multilateral exercises in the Pacific, and the largest air training event in the region. First launched in 1978 with only Japanese and American participants, nowadays it includes aircraft and crews from Australia, Japan, and the United States.
In addition to the aforementioned skills, pilots and crews got to practice the Agile Combat Employment (ACE) concept. ACE is all about refueling and rearming an aircraft as soon as possible to send it back into the fight.
“We were able to land, refuel, and re-launch in about 2.5-3 hours,” U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Cichowski, the commander of the 13th Fighter Squadron, said. “We flew a total of six sorties like this and the F-35s were the only other fighters to participate in the ACE operation at Northwest Field. We are still testing the envelope of what is and isn’t possible for ACE, particularly when it comes to unprepared fields. It’s been a theoretical concept for some time, that we would fly into unprepared territory and rapidly refuel and rearm aircraft to return to the fight.”
Aside from the diplomatic value, the exercise goes along way in enhancing interoperability, combat readiness, and humanitarian assistance procedures among the Air Forces of the three countries. As the Indo-Pacific region becomes increasingly more volatile, alliances and partnerships are crucial if the US wants to effectively counter China’s truculence in the area.