An 8-ship joint coalition formation flies over Guam during Exercise Cope North 20, near Andersen Air Force Base, Feb. 19, 2020.
An 8-ship joint coalition formation flies over Guam during Exercise Cope North 20, near Andersen Air Force Base, Feb. 19, 2020.

Cope North 20 Joint Forces Exhibit Aerial Prowess

On a hot flightline with multiple runways that stretch for a combined 22,000 feet long in the heart of the Western Pacific, more than 100 aircraft from the U.S. military, Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) took to the Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands (CNMI) skies.

Exhibiting their military might, the three nations teamed up for the Combat Air Forces large force employment (LFE) exercise iteration of Cope North 20, Feb. 12-28, at Andersen Air Force Base and around the CNMI, Palau, and Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia.

“This was a historic Cope North exercise,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Rowe, Cope North 20 exercise director. “Instead of individualizing control groups nationally, we performed as a Multinational Joint Task Force and integrated the three nations along functional lines.”

Scott relished this integration and the chance to operate in an LFE capacity, which incorporated high volumes of different aircraft and platforms to launch into the airspace at one time for the coordinated exercise.

An 8-ship joint coalition formation flies over Guam during Exercise Cope North 20, near Andersen Air Force Base, Feb. 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)
An 8-ship joint coalition formation flies over Guam during Exercise Cope North 20, near Andersen Air Force Base, Feb. 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

“Most bases don’t have enough assets to perform (large force employment) movements on their own,” Rowe said. “Cope North is one of those few chances to bring in an entire (trilateral) package to execute functions such as command and control, close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, and the different individual skill sets the participating units bring.”

Engaging in large-scale movements like Cope North is no easy task, especially with the language barriers and different accents. However, this didn’t deter an optimistic Rowe, who noticed the steep learning curve everyone inherited as they formed one joint “language” to effectively work together.

“Communication is half the battle and our ability to understand the expectations of each individual functional area was key in knowing how to optimally perform during the exercise,” Rowe said. “You never want to experience an unforeseen issue for the first time in a real-world situation. (Therefore), Cope North is important because it gave our participants the environment and opportunity to practice and know how to execute in a joint environment.”

Outlined by the National Defense Strategy, U.S. forces will operate alongside these allied partners to secure the Indo-Pacific region. The chance to deepen training and personal relationships within the Pacific theater is designed to be a force multiplier.

. The mass aerial formation showcased unity in the area of responsibility (AOR) with coalition partners through a trilateral, joint formation of aircraft that displays capability to plan and fly together to defeat future threats. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)
. The mass aerial formation showcased unity in the area of responsibility (AOR) with coalition partners through a trilateral, joint formation of aircraft that displays capability to plan and fly together to defeat future threats. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

Rowe encouraged the participants to keep in contact, stating that no individual member or service has a monopoly on good ideas and that learning from fellow allied Airmen from each nation ensures that steel sharpens steel.

For the RAAF, the same sentiments were relayed by their leadership as they evaluated how they can refine their best practices.

“One thing the (Royal Australian Air Force) will take away from Cope North is our interoperability with our Japanese and American allies,” said Group Captain Hinton Tayloe, Cope North 20 RAAF executive director, a three-time Cope North participant. “Our forces are comprised of three things: machine-to-machine, human-to-machine, and human-to-human integration. Practicing our interoperability more closely was a big challenge as we completely (unified).

With a focus on interoperability, Tayloe emphasized that communication was the strong foundation, but additional steps to fully synchronizing continued to build a solid whole.

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon, foreground, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, and a F-16CJ, assigned to the 14th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, approach to land during exercise COPE North 20, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)
A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon, foreground, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, and a F-16CJ, assigned to the 14th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, approach to land during exercise COPE North 20, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

“Communication can only take you so far–you have to be on the same page to even take off,” Tayloe said. “We had to understand how we fight as individuals to understand how to fight together, and then adapt the way we fight to overcome any hurdles. It took effective synergy to figure out the best way to produce the desired effect and adapt to enhance those effects.

“With effective synergy, the overall outcome allowed us to come together with different capabilities, major systems, languages, dialects and cultures,” Tayloe added. “We cleared those hurdles by adapting our [Tactics, Techniques and Procedures] to maximize our effectiveness and result in the best possible outcome.”

The pinnacle of these efforts was exhibited during a mass flyover, where an 8-ship joint coalition formation flew together to signify this alliance. Launching in quick succession, they jointly integrated their fighters and bombers, and ascended above expectations as they successfully tested and maximized their combat readiness another year.

Launching approximately 1,200 sorties, the multinational, combined airpower was able to posture, operate and project combat air dominance – reestablishing that the Indo-Pacific is in safe, stable and secure hands.

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, taxis down the flightline upon return from a training sortie during exercise COPE North, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)
A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, taxis down the flightline upon return from a training sortie during exercise COPE North, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Feb. 19, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

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