Final Thunder

Richard Allnutt visited Eielson AFB, Alaska, for the final Co-operative Cope Thunder exercise.

A AIRCRAFT AND personnel from more than a dozen nations took part in the summer’s Exercise Co-operative Cope Thunder (CCT), held in Alaska from July 20 to August 5.

Multi-national

Around 1,300 personnel from Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mongolia, the Republic of South Korea, the Slovak Republic, Sweden, the United States and NATO were involved, and observers came from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia and Sri Lanka.

The exercise’s main operating base was Eielson AFB, near Fairbanks, home of the 353rd Combat Training Squadron, responsible for the planning and management of CCT. Elmendorf AFB, at Anchorage, 350 miles (480km) to the southwest, hosted transport aircraft.

Gripen Debut

Making its debut at this year’s exercise was a contingent from the Swedish Air Force. Participation in a US exercise marks a further change in Swedish defence planning. Sweden has not been involved in armed conflict since 1812 because of its policy of neutrality. Its military is however involved in major peacekeeping operations around the world, and is heavily committed to involvement in European rapid reaction force battle groups. The Alaskan deployment provided the necessary experience for deploying outside of Sweden, in preparation for future missions. Sweden will lead the formation of the Nordic Battle Group, due to become operational in mid-2008, in which it will be joined by units from Estonia, Finland and Norway.

Five JAS 39C single-seat and two JAS 39D two-seat Gripens routed via RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland; Keflavik, Iceland; Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland; Frobisher Bay, Nunavut, Canada; and Churchill, Manitoba; CFB Cold Lake, Alberta; and Yellowknife in the North West Territories.

The Swedish deployment was commanded by Lt Col Ken Lindberg, one of the first pilots to transition to the Gripen, and comprised eleven other pilots and 66 personnel from F17 Wing at Ronneby, and F21 Wing at Lulea.

Swedish Gripens carried out an equal mix of ground attack and fighter escort missions at CCT. A pair of Tp84 Hercules, from F7 Wing at Satenas, provided route support. Neither aircraft took part in the exercise, both returning home to join an operation to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Red Flag Alaska

Future CCT exercises will be known as Red Flag Alaska: the US Air Force is aligning the training with the long-standing Red Flag exercise held each year at Nellis AFB in Nevada, a move which will bring changes in the training format. Early next year, the resident Block 30 F-16C-equipped 18th Fighter Squadron will be renamed the 18th Aggressor Squadron, providing a dedicated adversary force for Pacific Air Forces, and for Red Flag Alaska, the first of which is scheduled for next spring.

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