News: Yuma squadron visits Cherry Point to conduct air-to-air combat training with Harrier pilots
Story by Lance Cpl. S.T. Stewart
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. – Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 “Snipers” out of Yuma, Ariz., visited Cherry Point, Aug. 7-16, for the first time in nearly 18 years to conduct training with Marine Attack Squadron 223.
VMFT-401’s primary mission is to train military pilots in air-to-air combat utilizing the F-5N Tiger II tactical fighter and attack aircraft. According to Maj. Nicholas R. Wineman, the maintenance officer for VMA-223, the air combat instructors with the training squadron are some of the best in the Marine Corps with the average pilot having logged more than 2,500 flight hours and most are graduates of "Top Gun" or the Marine Corps' Weapons and Tactics Instructor course.
“As Harrier pilots, air-to-air combat is not a traditional mission for us, however, it’s a developing mission,” said Wineman.
Harriers are normally used for air-to-surface support missions. Although the Harrier is scheduled to be replaced by the F-35B, the Harrier pilots are furthering their training with the aircraft to maintain mission readiness until the F-35B replaces it.
One of the reasons for the nontraditional training is to familiarize the pilots with the new AIM-120, an advanced medium range air-to-air missile, or AMRAAM, capable of all-weather, day-and-night missions.
“The AMRAAM gives us a greater capability in the air-to-air environment,” said Wineman. “Because of this, we have refocused the air-to-air syllabus for us and for the greater Harrier community.”
Within two hours of the visiting instructors landing on the station, after making a cross country flight, they were in the air training the pilots with VMA-223.
“They are the most professional instructors I’ve ever met. They came to every brief prepared and have a ton of knowledge,” said Wineman.
Wineman said another reason for the squadron focusing on air-to-air combat is to match the capabilities of the MV-22 Osprey.
“The Osprey has the capabilities to do deep inserts into a hostile territory and we are training to be able to protect them,” said Wineman. “We have to be ready for anything and ready to provide air-to-air support.”
The training included multiple exercises between the squadrons off the coast of North Carolina. The pilots conducted combat scenarios by placing two Harriers up against one Tiger or vice versa.
The pilots took turns performing in the offensive and defensive positions. Developing their skills, the pilots started in what is called a neutral starting point with each aircraft facing each other and trying to gain the upper hand on their enemy.
It requires an air combat tactics instructor or an air combat instructor to conduct air-to-air combat training. There are only two instructors on the East Coast, which makes it difficult to get this training for the pilots. Because the training squadron brought more instructors and five of their F-5Ns, VMA-223 completed what would normally take three or four months to achieve in less than two weeks.
Wineman said his Marines and the visiting instructors performed phenomenally during the training cycle, attributing their success to teamwork. The squadrons cancelled zero sorties during the training and every flight took off and landed on time because of the exceptional work done by the maintenance Marines from both squadrons.
Wineman added that the instructors from VMFT-401 are an invaluable asset for his Marines to train with, and he hopes to continue his unit’s relationship with the training squadron. The squadron is planning to return next year.
“For the younger pilots to have the opportunity to train with these instructors is an honor,” said Wineman. “This is an opportunity and an asset that these pilots have never received. We are looking forward to working with the instructors in the future.”
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