The pilots of the Oklahoma Air National Guard’s 138th Fighter Wing usually fight as the away team, traveling to other bases to train with different units and aircraft. But this June, Tulsa pilots squared off against a new foe on their home turf: Marine Corps Hornets.
Six F/A-18 Hornets and about 100 Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 from MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina are in town for joint exercises with the Air National Guard, specifically, dissimilar air combat training.
Col. Tray Siegfried, commander of the 138th Fighter Wing, said it’s the first time Tulsa has hosted this type of training with another unit. Siegfried said getting pilots’ experience against new planes and tactics is invaluable. With the Marines’ planes, Siegfried said the 138th Fighter Wing can simulate larger engagements more in tune with real-life air battles, including incorporating E-3 Sentry command and control planes flying from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
“You’re going to see what other tactics they bring to the table in a different kind of aircraft,” Siegfried said. “You’re able to double what you can get in the air at the same time.”
Since June 6 and through next week, the two units are working together in planning, briefing, flying and debriefing missions in their own simulated air war high above Oklahoma. When the mission ends, there might even be pizza under the tents just off the flight line.
Unlike the Tulsa pilots, Capt. Joshua Waldron is used to checking over his shoulder for the nose of a Hornet chasing him down. The Marine Corps Hornet pilot of the “Checkerboards” squadron said flying with the “Tulsa Vipers” presents a unique test in all aspects.
“You’ll hear the way we do things in the Marine Corps versus the way they do things here at the Guard, it’s just speaking a little bit different language,” Waldron said. “Dancing a little bit different dance and now you get to see the different flavor and how it works out.”
Of Tulsa’s pilots, the wing’s vice commander, might have a distinct advantage owing to his experience in both planes.
Lt. Col. Michael Meason is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and flew F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets for the Navy before joining the Air National Guard, where he has flown A-10 Warthogs and the F-16.
The F/A-18 and F-16 aren’t all that different beyond their looks, Meason said.
“The capabilities, the missions that the two planes do are pretty similar,” Meason said. “Aside from the obvious differences, short of the landing on the boat part, the F-16 was designed to do and does virtually all the missions that the F/A-18 does and vice-versa.
“Our tactics are slightly different, which again is part of the value in doing what we’re doing here these two weeks, learning how to be more interoperable.”
The dogfights both squadrons have overhead are for training in as controlled an environment as possible. If a mission ends in failure, there’s tape to review and lessons to be learned, not pilots to rescue or worse.
It’s why Siegfried and other pilots want to learn all they can in Oklahoma skies.
“It’s just all-around good joint inter-service training,” Siegfried said. “Keeping everybody together is how we’re going to win the next one.”
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