Northern Edge 2006 takes joint operations to next level

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amy Hansen
  • Northern Edge Joint Information Bureau
Exercise Northern Edge 2006, Alaska's largest joint training exercise, concluded June 16.

Nearly 5,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen worked together against a simulated enemy for two weeks, destroying targets on land and in the sea, gaining control of the Alaskan sky and performing search-and-rescue missions. 

Over the course of the exercise, aircraft from all the services flew approximately 1,500 missions, or about 80 flights twice a day for 10 days, according to Col. John Marselus, Alaskan Command exercise director. 

For the first week of Northern Edge, the joint-air forces used the Alaska Pacific Range Complex, a large military air space near Fairbanks, to conduct the exercise air war and practice targeting on land. During the second week, the focus shifted to maritime targets, using airspace above the Gulf of Alaska. 

“Over the course of this exercise, each service has been able to share its air-to-air expertise to improve our joint warfighting capability,” Colonel Marselus said. “For example, the Navy has expertise working with ships and performing air interdiction of maritime targets. The Air Force introduced the F-22 Raptor during this exercise, which brought awesome cutting-edge technology to the fight.”

One purpose of the exercise was to move from the concept of merely deconflicting the actions of Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force units working in the same operation to actually integrating their planning, movements, communication and targets. 

“I personally observed the capabilities each service contributed, and how -- over the course of the exercise -- each service began to understand the capabilities of the others," he said. "The ability to sit down and plan face to face, go out and execute the plan, and then debrief face to face has dramatically improved our joint integration."

“We are using each other’s strengths to result in a force that is greater than the sum of its parts,” Colonel Marselus said.

Another focus of Northern Edge was to provide a more difficult training scenario to challenge participating units to the maximum extent. 

“A lot of aircrew members have come back and told us that this is the best exercise they’ve been to in their 20-year careers due to the number and realism of the simulated enemy forces,” the colonel said. 

Despite a large and challenging simulated enemy force, exercise participants had new force-multiplying technology to use. One such technology was coordinating geographically separated units to accomplish the mission. 

“In one scenario, the command-and-control structure in Hawaii directed a Navy destroyer in the Gulf of Alaska to launch a simulated strike of land and sea targets,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Hank Adams, a surface warfare officer attached to the Joint Exercise Control Group. 

A similar innovation used in this year’s Northern Edge was the integration of live flying and flight simulators. This allowed aircrew to participate in exercise scenarios from ground-based simulators while airborne aircrew flew the same scenarios. 

Another cutting-edge capability utilized during the exercise was “Beyond Visual Range” technology, where joint U.S. forces could defeat simulated enemy aircraft in the air before the enemy could see the striker.

“Technological leaps like the F-22, the tactical Tomahawk missile and the B-2s enable us to engage the enemy far beyond the range of the historical dogfight,” Colonel Marselus said. 

Even in the midst of all the advanced technology, one old-fashioned concept was retained in Northern Edge: safety. The planners completed an operational risk management plan covering every aspect of the exercise. For example, the pararescue jumpers participating in search-and-rescue missions were restricted from jumping if the waves topped 10 feet or winds were greater than 25 knots. 

“We include ORM in planning because there is a big difference between simulating operations in an exercise and actually performing them during wartime,” the colonel said. “Either way, human lives are at stake, but in a training environment the amount of acceptable risk is much lower.” 

From safety decisions to airspace arrangements, the Northern Edge planners from Alaskan Command could not have pulled off the largest exercise in Alaska by themselves. 

“We could not have executed Northern Edge 2006 without the great support of the Alaska Air National Guard search-and-rescue professionals, Coast Guard District 17, the 11th Air Force and U.S. Army in Alaska forces, our supportive Alaska community, and the local Federal Aviation Administration representatives, who helped design and set the framework for this exercise over the past year,” Colonel Marselus said. 

“I would also like to thank the patriotic fishing vessel captains who played in Northern Edge to help our forces be better prepared,” he said. “Our country is at war, and it’s always good to see local civilian support."