Valiant Shield a lesson in inter-service communication and capability
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam — Capt. Jarrod Dix likens the Marines and the Air Force working together to putting an Alabaman and a Scotsman together in the same room: They may speak the same language, but they have very different ideas of what makes a good football match.
Valiant Shield is the largest U.S.-only military exercise in the world, and developing new strategies to combat threats in the air, sea and cyberspace are a big part of it.
However, most participants say the biggest piece is getting the different services to figure out how to work together in an exercise so they don’t have to do it on the fly in a combat zone.
“In our case with Marines on the ground, sometimes the Air Force will be called to support them with their jets, and if they don’t speak the same way … they’re going to spend way too much time just trying to talk and not getting the actual job done,” said Dix, a Marine F-18 pilot out of Beaufort, S.C.
Senior officials at Valiant Shield acknowledge that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines weren’t able to work together very well in the post-Vietnam War era. They started making the effort in the 1980s and ‘90s.
A 1994 paper from the School of Advanced Airpower Studies on Operation Desert Storm in Iraq found that the four services tried to work together, but framework and doctrine sometimes constrained their effectiveness.
Fortunately for U.S. forces, that didn’t matter much during that war, “largely due to a great deal of combat preparation time, abundant combat resources and a safe build-up/basing area,” according to the research paper.
Fast forward to 2014, and the U.S. military is preparing for potential battles where they are attacked first, their resources are spread globally and their overseas bases are within striking distances of advanced, long-range missiles that are proliferating around the world.
Valiant Shield brings together 18,000 servicemembers, some of whom are operating systems unique to their services.
For example, the Air Force has a massive array of long-range bombers. The Navy has its seapower, which the Marine Corps can augment in ways that don’t involve a single infantryman firing a rifle.
Even the Army is getting into Valiant Shield for the first time since the maneuvers’ inception in 2006. The air- and sea-oriented exercise incorporates the Army’s Patriot missile batteries and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, which can target ballistic missiles.
The scenarios change daily at Valiant Shield, which began Monday and ends Sept. 23, but they all involve attacks from U.S. units posing as the enemy.
In some of the scenarios, the Marine Corps and the Air Force take the enemy role, and the “good guy” Navy commander must call on friendly Air Force units to fight.
At the general and admiral level, this is part of what’s known as “command and control.” Giving those leaders an idea of what other services can do to win a fight — and how to use them most effectively — is the biggest thing the military’s leadership gets from the exercise, said Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, who heads USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group.
The joint concept isn’t just about doubling the number of fighter jets available to a commander. It’s melding different strengths together so that, as Montgomery put it, “two plus two can end up equaling six.”
For example, Marine units on Guam and Tinian have set up radar stations that extend the George Washington’s radar capabilities well beyond the horizon, said Col. Christopher Papaj, the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing assistant commander assigned to the carrier during the exercise.
Meanwhile, the Air Force can stopgap a potential Navy limitation.
China is developing an anti-access, area-denial strategy that seeks to keep ships out of large swathes of Asia-Pacific waters with ballistic and cruise missiles, according to the this year’s Pentagon report to Congress.
If it keeps carriers at a distance, Navy fighters — and particularly the future F-35 — may not have the range they need.
This potentially complicates the U.S. guarantee to defend Taiwan, which China claims as its own. China also has disputed claims to territories in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
However, the Air Force, and to a lesser extent, the Marines, can give Navy fighters added range through mid-air refueling, given sufficient cover.
“The Air Force has a lot of big wing fuel tankers, and we can move our airport wherever we want,” said Capt. William Koyama, commander of Carrier Air Wing Five. “When we put those two together, we can sustain anything in the air.”