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Cooperative Cope Thunder 2004
Latest update: December 2004
 Each year four Cope Thunder (CT) exercises are held in Alaska, United States of America (USA). One of these is known as Cooperative Cope Thunder (CCT) and includes foreign participants while the other three focuses on the joint integration of United States Air Forces (USAF) Air Expeditionary Forces (AEF) with the US Navy, Marines and Army. All the exercises are organised by Pacific Air Command (PACAF) and last for ten days. Cope Thunder exercises were originally held at Clark Air Base Philippines but moved to Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) after the erupting of Mount Pinatubo in 1992. Also Elmendorf AFB is host to the participants. On average 1.150 people and 80 aircraft are deployed of which 60 planes and 900 personal will deploy to Eielson AFB with the others being deployed at Elmendorf AFB. One other major exercise ‘Northern Edge’ is organised by Alaska Command. Elmendorf AFB is home to USAF 3rd Wing (Wg) which consist of multiple squadrons flying Boeing F-15C/D/E Eagle and Strike Eagles, Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, Beech C-12 (Super) King Airs and Boeing E-3B/C Sentry aircraft. Eielson AFB is home to the 354th Wg consisting of two squadrons equipped with Fairchild-Republic OA/A-10A Warthogs and Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcons.

Responsible within PACAF for the (Cooperative) Cope Thunder exercises is the 353rd Combat Training Squadron (353 CTS). The unit is assigned to the 11th Air Force, which has its headquarters at Elmendorf AFB. The 353 CTS itself is located at Eielson AFB and maintains a detachment at Elmendorf AFB. 353 CTS manages the Pacific-Alaska Range complex, which covers three areas consisting of 68.000 square miles of training air space and 90.000 acres of land, making it the largest training range in the USA. The ranges are equipped with the normal targets.

The goals for the exercise are twofold: first getting people from foreign nations together and be able to operate together and second it’s a great way to introduce people who haven’t seen some of the environment get together and have mutual training objectives. As with all major exercises, like Red Flag held at Nellis AFB Nevada and Maple Flag at Cold Lake in Alberta Canada, opposition and offensive forces are engaged in a war, based upon the scenario drawn up by the 353 CTS. This scenario being the same as other major exercises seeing fictitious countries getting into hostilities or war and allied forces responding as peacekeeping forces. Controlling the air war and ensuring safety is the responsibility of the white force. The aim of the exercise is just like Red Flag and Maple Flag to provide aircrews with realistic training missions. Aircrews surviving the first ten combat missions are more likely to survive the rest of their combat sorties. Preparation for the exercise starts 12 to 15 months prior. PACAF will determine which countries they would like to invite as well as looking at the right mix of players. Invitations are than sent out to allied and friendly nations. Observers are also invited to join the exercise. Together with Air Combat Command (ACC) the major exercises (CT, Red & Maple Flags etc.) are deconflicted. A scenario is written which is presented to the participants at the planning conference held during the first months of the year.

Participants can ask for their specific training needs to be included into the game plan. For each of the 19 missions flown during CCT mission commander slots are available and each squadron can sign-up for these slots. The scenario is than finalised. Somewhere during the summer, the CCT isn’t held during the same period each year, the actual exercise takes place. Each squadron will bring a mix of junior and more experienced aircrews. The junior aircrews will get the change to fly missions involving up to 70 aircraft. The senior aircrews who are assigned a mission commander slot will be given the opportunity to organise and plan a mission. Mission planning starts a day prior to the flight date. The mission commander will draw up an overall tactic and assign the assets he has available to his force to conduct his mission. He staff of the 353 CTS, which can comment on his plan and make suggestions to improve it, will assist him. Than a briefing will be held for all the package commanders, a package consists of a number of aircraft performing the same role for instance air to ground or tactical or airlift. The packages commanders will than brief their own package. On the day of the mission a mass brief will be held which off course includes a briefing from the meteorological office.
Squadrons can arrive a week prior to CTT to get themselves acquainted with local flying procedures, receive local safety and survival briefings and make physical and metal preparations. Its also an opportunity for them to have their pilots (re) qualified on certain missions like flying in the mountains.

One of the highlights was the participation of the Indian Air Force (IAF). It marked their first presence at CCT, although an Il-76 was present last year. Their westbound deployment wasn’t unnoticed in Europe and on the internet it kept people busy. After leaving India’s westcoast the package comprising Jaguars, Il-76s and Il-78s headed for Qatar. Other stops were made in Egypt, Italy, Portugal, Azores, Canada (3 stops) before finally reaching Eielson AFB. The Jaguars were brought for the exercise because they will be operated within the IAF for some time to come and have already been in service for a long time. The deployment to the USA was a logistical challenge. During CCT one mission per day was flown to get to known how this exercise is run. Each mission saw an Il-78 take-off to support the Jaguars and an Il-76 to perform tactical airlift.

The co-operation with the USAF started some years ago. Both countries are learning from each other. Currently interaction between the two nations takes places on different levels with at least flying instructors being exchanged. The IAF would like to participate in a CCT type exercise once a year. It might be that in the future they would show up at a Red Flag or Maple Flag exercise. If the IAF deploys westbound again remains to be seen as this was done as a logistical exercise.
Other Asian countries to participate were Malaysia which sent a C-130 Hercules for the first time. Marking its second attendance in a row was the Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF). This time F-15 Eagles from 7 Kokudan (Air Wing) based at Hyakuri air base were deployed together with a Boeing E-767 Awacs (in 50 years anniversary colours) from 601 Hikotai. Support for the F-15s was provided by USAF KC-135s. Attending CCT offers the JSDAF an opportunity to improve their tactical skills. It also offers them an environment with less restriction than in Japan.

PACAF also invites allied nation as observers to the exercise. As with the actual exercise the goal is to learn from each other’s strengths. In future it could be that a country would actually participate in a CCT. The IAF attended several CCTs as observers before actually joining this year. Bangladesh were one of the observing countries this year. The goal for them is to learn how an exercise like CCT is run, learn how the different countries work together and which procedures are used to make air operations a success. Bangladesh contributes armed forces to the United Nations for various peacekeeping programs throughout the world. The lessons learned in Alaska are very valuable to them.

The future for Cooperative Cope Thunder looks bride. All participants value the large amount of air space available for training. For the Royal Air Force and German Air Force it is normal to operate together and exchange information. CCT provided them the opportunity to train with air forces they normally never fly with. The exercise will probably not expand because currently the available ramp space is used. Also availability of lodging in hotels is problem. Fairbanks hasn’t a lot of hotels while those at Anchorage fill up with tourists in the summer. However the 353rd CTS manages to offer a realistic 10 day exercise fulfilling the training needs of both US forces as well as it’s allied nations.

The author wishes to thanks all members of public affairs and participating nations in their assistance with writing this article.
Participants Cooperative Cope Thunder 2004
Country: Aircraft: No. aircraft: Squadron / Wing: Wing Airbase:
Canada CC-130E   436 Sqdn   CFB Trenton
Germany Tornado   JBG 33   Buchel
India Il-76        
Japan E-767        
  F-15J/DJ   204 Hikotai    
  F-15J/DJ   305 Hikotai    
Singapore F-16C/D   428th FS 27th FW Cannon AFB, New Mexico
United Kingdom Sentry AEW.1   5 / 23 Sqdn   RAF Waddington
  Tornado GR.4   12 Sqdn    
United States F-15C/D   12th FS 3rd Wg Eielson AFB, Alaska
  F-15C/D   19th FS 3rd Wg Kadena AB, Japan
  KC-10A   32nd ARS 305th AMW Mc Guire AFB, New Jersey
  F-15C/D   44th FS 18th Wg Kadena AB, Japan
  F-15C/D   67th FS 18th Wg Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
  F-15E   90th FS 3rd Wg Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
  KC-135R   168th ARS 168th ARW, AK ANG Eielson AFB, Alaska
  F-16C/D   194th FS 144th FW Fresno, California
  C-130H   517th AS 3rd Wg Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
  E-3B     3rd Wg Elmendorf AFB, Alaska
  KC-135R   909th ARS 18th Wg Kadena AB, Japan
  F/A-18F   VFA 41   NAS Lemoore, California
Total   0

The RAF Tornadoes were operated by 12 squadron which took aircraft from its colleagues (16, 31 and 617 aquadrons). JBG 33 participated with aircraft loaned from JBG 31.
Photo gallery participants Cooperative Cope Thunder 2004
CC-130E Canadian Air Force landing at Elmendorf AFB. German Air Force Tornado departing Eielson AFB. Indian Air Force Il-76MD taking-off from Eielson AFB.
An Indian Air Force Il-78MKI sits at the ramp of Eielson AFB. Indian Air Force Jaguar S taxiing from the ramp for take off at Eielson AFB. Japanese Air Self Defence Force E-767 'AWACS'.
JASDF F-15J Eagle.
JASDF F-15DJ Eagle.
Malaysian Air Force C-130H Hercules
F-16C 428th FS Commander Singapore Air Force based at Cannon AFB. RAF Tornado GR.4 ready to depart for its mission. F-15C Eagle from 12th FS returning from a mission.
Ramp of 19th FS F-15C/D Eagles.
32nd ARS / 305th AMW KC-10A providing AAR operating from Eielson AFB. F-15C from 44th FS based at Kadena AB Japan departing Elmendorf AFB.
18th Wing participated with both its F-15C/D squadrons. F-15C from 67th FS. 3rd Wing, 90th FS F-15E Strike Eagle.
Eielson AFB based KC-135R 168th ARS Alaska ANG.
The 517th AS participated with its C-130H Hercules.  Operating together with their Alaska ANG colleagues, 909th ARS KC-135s. US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA 41 on the ramp at Eielson AFB.
F-16D Singapore Air Force 428th FS taxiing for a mission. Indian Air Force Jaguar S also taxxing for a mission. Eielson AFV ramp with Indian Air Force Jaguars and RAF Tornadoes.
Eagles from the 44th and 67th were the first receivers for the 168th ARS Alaska Japanese Air Self Defence Force F-15J  
leaving the KC-135R.