Kadena AB aces dispersed operations during Northern Edge 23-2

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  • By Airman 1st Class Tylir Meyer

U.S. service members integrated with Japan Self-Defense Forces, French air and space forces and other allies and partners to enhance Agile Combat Employment capabilities from dispersed locations during Northern Edge 23-2, July 2-21. 
Staging out of Kadena Air Base, the “Keystone of the Pacific.” afforded U.S. forces and partner nations the opportunity to work through interoperability challenges across joint, multinational and multi-domain operations in support of the shared security objectives in the Indo-Pacific region. 
“Northern Edge 23-2 was a success in challenging our forces to exercise distributed operations in the field rather than simple simulations, increasing proficiency and force durability,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Nicholas Evans, 18th Wing commander. “Working together with our Japanese counterparts enables us to bolster our real-world training capabilities, which enhances our readiness and lethality.” 
The large-scale exercise tested participants’ mission capabilities to include command and control, movement and maneuverability, hub and spoke distribution, combat search and rescue and the testing and experimentation of new technology. 
From infancy, multilateral partners gave inputs into the operational design of the exercise and continued to participate all the way to its culmination. 
“By training with our partners, we learn how to work through some operational challenges as a collective force and get closer to our goal of a truly interoperable, joint and multinational partnership,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. John Della Pia, 18th Operational Support Squadron Wing weapons and tactics chief. 
NE 23-2 also achieved the joint force air component commander’s vision by deploying more than 5,000 personnel, 90 fighters and 20 tankers to 10 locations throughout the region. 
“Our Airmen essentially deployed – physically moving between different locations, picking up a pack and sleeping bag, showing up to a place that they might not have everything they need and learned how to work through those struggles in real-time,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Darden, 336th Fighter Generation Squadron maintenance project officer during NE 23-2. “The JASDF were great partners and were 100% willing to help and were key to our success.” 
An integral aspect of NE 23-2 was exercising distributed operations through a centralized hub and dispersed spokes, demonstrating greater agility and ability to outpace an adversary’s actions and complicate targeting cycles through movement and maneuverability across a wide area. 
“Planning and coordinating an exercise on this scale introduces some incredible challenges – in terms of the sheer number of airplanes, the amount of fuel required to keep airplanes flying and the outstanding work of our logistics teams to ensure both our hub and spokes were successful in their missions,” Della Pia said. 
The range of operations provided by spoke operations in Hyakuri and Tsuiki Air Bases, allowed additional U.S. Air Force commands to validate new tactics, techniques and procedures. 
Such coordination resulted in four F-35A Lightning IIs completing a historic endurance mission by flying for 10 hours before joining allied forces in the air to participate in a tactical training mission over the Indo-Pacific region. 
“Northern Edge provides opportunities for us to train like we will fight – as a joint and coalition force,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Rachel Self, 355th Fighter Squadron F-35A pilot. 
Another new capability tested, in conjunction with the Air Mobility Command’s concurrent full spectrum exercise Mobility Guardian 23, was the Real-Time Information in the Cockpit system, that provides intelligence and C2 capabilities to KC-135 Stratotanker crews. This technology provides operations which streamline aircraft tracking and proficiency on-time, on-target across vast distances. 
As Kadena AB continues to demonstrate its strategic importance as a hub facilitating multiple, multi-faceted exercises, and continue daily operations to meet mission objectives, the 18th Wing reinforces its vital position to ensuring long-lasting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. 
“It’s been a herculean effort to ensure that our daily operations haven’t suffered as a result [of Northern Edge],” Della Pia said. “It’s easy to forget that we have normal operations and taskings that occur daily, and it’s no exception during an operation like this. Team Kadena has been working in overdrive to ensure mission success and they've knocked it out the park!”