NORTHERN LIGHTNING 2017
You could easily miss its’ twenty three hundred acres, nine thousand foot runway and forty acres of ramp space when driving by on Interstate 90. We are referring to Volk Air National Guard Base located in west central Wisconsin, roughly half way between Wisconsin Dells and La Crosse. Volk can trace its history back to 1888 when the land it resides on was purchased to train Wisconsin National Guard members. Volk has played a vital and key role in all major conflicts since these early days. Volk was officially named in 1957 in recognition of Jerome A. Volk, the first Wisconsin Air National Guard pilot to be killed in combat over North Korea during the Korean Conflict.
The primary mission of the Volk CRTC (Combat Readiness Training Center) is to provide all branches of the U.S. military a year-round realistic training environment to enhance combat readiness. Volk offers and allows training scenarios and simulations that visiting units cannot accomplish at home base and simulates a true FOL (Forward Operating Location). The 128th Air Control Squadron based at Volk is tasked with supporting all flying activities. Volk can accommodate one thousand two hundred personnel for training and has all of the components any major U.S. installation has. The Wisconsin National Guard Museum is also located on base with an interesting array of static display aircraft. The Museum is currently open Wednesday through Sunday; unfortunately it was closed on the day of my visit. Volk is one of four such facilities, the others are located in Michigan, Mississippi, and Georgia.
Volk has held many different training exercises through the years, but its’ premier event however is known as Northern Lightning, held this year from May 1st to the 12th. The main purpose of this training exercise is to provide joint training for all branches in complex mission scenarios. These scenarios are meant to integrate 4th generation (F-16) aircraft with 5th generation (F-22 and F-35) aircraft in Opposed Air Interdiction and Close Air Support Missions.
To accomplish this mission Volk has thirty thousand cubic miles of airspace available and up to 50,000ft. The co-located ranges such as Hardwood, which encompasses seven thousand acres of land offer realistic and challenging training scenarios. Hardwood and the surrounding ranges offer target sets that support live, laser, GPS designated, and electronic warfare. Nine different types of threat emitters are scattered throughout the ranges and offer a realistic surface to air threat.
This year’s units including the following that flew directly from the Volk Base:
31st TES Edwards AFB CA F-35A
94TH FS Langley AFB VA F-22
VAQ-209 NAS Whidbey Island WA EA-18G
71ST FTS Langley AFB VA T-38B
266TH RANS Mountain Home AFB ID Non-flying
NSWG-4 JEB Little Creek VA Non-flying
MCAS-1 MCAS Yuma AZ Non-flying
MCAS-24 Virginia Beach VA Non-flying
The following units participated but from their home base:
115th FW Madison WI F-16C
148TH FW Duluth MN F-16C
114TH FW Sioux Falls SD F-16C
337TH TES Dyess AFB TX B-1B
128TH ARW Milwaukee WI KC-135R
126TH ARW Scott AFB IL KC-135R
434TH ARW Grissom ARB IN KC-135R
147TH AR Madison WI UH-60A
Over forty total aircraft participated, with a typical Northern Lightning Mission involving thirty to thirty-five aircraft. Over fifteen hundred service men and women participated from all bases in support of Northern Lightning. Flying was normally conducted in the morning with aircraft departures typically beginning around 0900, and recoveries typically around 1130. Northern Lightning brought together the newest of Air Force aircraft with F-35As that rolled off the Fort Worth production Line two months ago. These virtually new F-35s are participating with a brand new software package that will eventually be rolled out to all F-35 aircraft. This software package is designed to find threats faster, automate target recognition, and allow the F-35 to engage surface to air threats. On the flip side 50-year-old T-38Bs played the role of Aggressor and provided an air to air threat for all mission scenarios.
Northern Lightning is very unique and different from other exercises such as Red Flag where a specific mission is trained for. Northern Lightning differs as it is based upon what the Air Crews want to practice and simulate, in theory the training scenario can differ from one mission to another. During Northern Lightning the missions are built as opposed to tasked. The two-week exercise brings an estimated $54 million dollars into the local community. The attached photos are a small glimpse into this top notch exercise. Volk Field and Northern Lightning play a vital role in training our service men and women to “Fly, Fight, and Win”. Until next time, “Blue Skies to All!”