USS Vinson, others begin Valiant Shield after loss of pilot

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An Alaska-based F-22 Raptor sits under a hangar during the opening day of Valiant Shield 2014 at Andersen Air Force Sept. 16.
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An Alaska-based F-22 Raptor sits under a hangar during the opening day of Valiant Shield 2014 at Andersen Air Force Sept. 16.

USS Vinson, others begin Valiant Shield after loss of pilot

by: Erik Slavin | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: September 16, 2014

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — One of the U.S. military’s largest joint exercises began on a somber note Monday, as participants dealt with the loss of one of their own.

Valiant Shield 2014 is continuing as scheduled despite the presumed death of F/A-18 pilot Lt. Nathan Poloski, 26, in a two-plane collision during pre-exercise operations at sea Friday.

Poloski, of Lake Arrowhead, Calif., graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2009 and reported in May to Strike Fighter Squadron 94, which is attached to the aircraft carrier USS Vinson.

The USS Vinson and the strike group ships that searched for Poloski this past weekend will go ahead with their portions of the exercise, as will Poloski’s squadron.

“I can tell you that having been through a mishap in a squadron, it feels like a family loss, a family death — so there’s a mourning and a grieving process,” said Rear Adm. Russell Allen, the exercise director. “At the same time, we also recognize that we need to conduct this exercise, and there is a desire to do the mission that you’re assigned to do.

“And so that actually helps to have something else to devote your energies toward, in the middle of that grieving process.”

The exercise itself focuses on a potential conflict that would bear little resemblance to Iraq, Afghanistan or any other large-scale conflict the United States has ever encountered.

The most obvious difference is that 18,000 servicemembers are participating from four branches, and none of them are ground troops.

Participants will attempt to defeat an enemy practicing an anti-access, area-denial strategy, a method that Allen called “an emerging threat in this region and across the world.”

The strategy prevents the U.S. and other nations from reaching international waters and airspace by using weapons like advanced missiles, mines and electronic warfare. It also attempts to block navigation for any ships or aircraft that do reach those areas.

Exercise officials said the scenarios were not directed toward any particular country. However, the 2014 Defense Department report to Congress on China’s military said that the People’s Liberation Army is developing the strategy “to deter or counter third-party intervention, particularly by the United States.”

China claims Taiwan, which the U.S. has sworn for decades to defend from an invasion.

Meanwhile, China’s claims to several territories in the East and South China seas have recently resulted in low-level clashes with neighboring U.S. allies like Japan and the Philippines, which have competing claims.

Iran has also developed an anti-access, area-denial strategy, though it is more limited in scale.

One of the most prominent concepts in countering the strategy is Air-Sea Battle, which is already in play during the exercise.

The basic blueprint of Air-Sea Battle begins with a fight in both space and cyberspace that disrupts an enemy’s ability to launch its missiles and high-tech weaponry.

Officials declined to discuss much about the exercise scenarios with reporters Monday, but did note that the cyberwarriors were active on Day 1.

“We have them pouncing immediately,” Allen said.

The next phases of a typical Air-Sea Battle involve destroying missile launchers and weapons platforms with strike aircraft and other assets. Ships and land-based missile-defense systems attempt to defeat anything that makes it past launch.

Coordinating 200 combined Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, along with surface ships and submarines, and heavy doses of cyberwarfare activity and Army missile defense add up to much faster-paced training than usual, exercise planners said.

“It increases that stress level that you wouldn’t get on an everyday, normal basis,” Brig. Gen. Andrew Toth, 36th Wing commander, said regarding the air operations.

However, the difference between training and combat operations was plainly evident on the flight line Monday, where Guam’s rainy season turned out to be the only foe that dozens of parked fighter jets would face.

Exercise officials said they canceled defensive counterair operations after determining that a tropical depression in the area posed a safety risk.

slavin.erik@stripes.com

Twitter:@eslavin_stripes

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