NORTHERN LIGHTNING 2019
The 21st edition of Northern Lightning was held from August 12th to the 23rd 2019 at the Volk Field CRTC (Combat Readiness Training Center). Volk Field is located in Juneau County Wisconsin near the city of Tomah or 34 miles northwest of the Wisconsin Dells. The U.S. military has used Volk Field airspace for over 60 years, with Volk Field housing one of the premier training environments in the United States. The second of two Northern Lightning exercises for 2019 included more than 50 aircraft and approximately 1,500 Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and National Guard personnel. Almost twenty different units participated in several realistic training scenarios focused on coordination between services, and asset integration between fourth and fifth generation aircraft. During this exercise almost 500 stories were flown by aircraft based at Volk Field, Madison’s Truax Air National Guard Base and Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Air National Guard Base.
The 27th FS (Fighter Squadron) based at Joint Base Langley Eustis Virginia, had the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor on hand for this exercise. The 27th Fighter Squadron is the oldest active fighter squadron in the United States Air Force with over 95 years of service. The 27th Fighter Squadron transitioned to the F-22A in 2005, to become the world’s first F-22 squadron.
The 58th Fighter Squadron based at Eglin Air Force Base Florida had several fifth- generation Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II’s on hand for the exercise. The 58th Fighter Squadron is better known as “The Gorillas” and is part of the 33rd Fighter Wing. The 58th Fighter Squadron is part of AETC (Air Education and Training Command) and is responsible for training pilots and maintainers on all three versions of the F-35.
The United States Navy was represented by VAQ-136 based at NAS (Naval Air Station) Whidbey Island Washington and flies the fourth-generation Boeing EA- 18G Growler. VAQ-136 is better known as “The Gauntlets” and fulfills the electronic warfare role. VAQ-136 is currently attached to Carrier Air Wing 2, and has flown the EA-18G since February 2013 and was established in 1973.
The 71st Fighter Training Squadron better known as “The Ironmen” is also based at Joint Base Langley Eustis Virginia and flies the 1959 vintage Northrop T-38C Talon. The mission of the 71st Fighter Training Squadron is to provide adversarial air training and has fulfilled this mission since 2015. They provided part of the enemy air to air threat at Northern Lightning 2019.
The Air National Guard is always well represented with no less than four different units participating. The first one being the 179th Fighter Squadron based at Duluth Air National Guard Base, Duluth Minnesota. The 179th Fighter Squadron is nicknamed “The Bulldogs” and flies the fourth-generation General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16 C&D Block 50 Fighting Falcon. The 179th Fighter Squadron has flown the F-16 since 1990 in the air defense roll and was the first Air National Guard unit to operate the Block 50 model F-16.
The second Air National Guard unit also flies the fourth-generation General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Madison Wisconsin based 176th Fighter Squadron based at Truax Air National Guard Base flies the Block 30 C&D model F-16 in the air interdiction and close air support role. The 176th Fighter Squadron is nicknamed “The Badger Air Militia” and was activated back in 1942. The 176th Fighter Squadron operated out of its Madison Base for the duration of this year’s exercise.
The third Air National Guard unit to participate, once again this year, is the Milwaukee Wisconsin based 128th ARW (Air Refueling Wing) flying the Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker. The 128th Air Refueling Wing is based at General Mitchell Air National Guard Base and has flown the refueling mission since 1962. The 128th Air Refueling Wing is unofficially known as “The Brew City Tankers” and flew all missions from its Milwaukee base and offloaded approximately 90,000 gallons of fuel during this exercise.
The final Air National Guard unit to participate this year was the Peoria Illinois based 182nd AW (Airlift Wing) flying the Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules. The 182nd Airlift Wing used Northern Lightning as an opportunity to train its pilots on how to operate off of unimproved runways. The unit used the nearby Young Landing Zone to train off of, located at Fort McCoy Wisconsin 26 miles from Volk Field.
The civilian contractor Draken International provided additional adversary support with the Aero Vodochody/Boeing L-159E Honey Badger. The L-159E is a highly modified version of the L-39 Albatross trainer. L-159E ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) are a virtually brand new fourth generation fighter which were modified to meet Draken’s requirements. Draken operates 21 L -159E’s add have been in service since 2015. Draken International is based at Lakeland Linder International Airport in Florida and flies 150 aircraft, and offers a wide range of contract services worldwide.
Volk Field and the surrounding bases of Fort McCoy and the Hardwood Firing Range continue to provide a premier training type environment to prepare pilots and crews for any potential threat environment they could face. I would like to extend a very special thank you to the Volk Field Public Affairs Office, especially Major Matthew Wunderlin for their time and hospitality during my visit. Until next time “Blue Skies to All!”