Units from US Pacific Air Forces have convened in South Korea for exercise Pacific Thunder 16-2, a two-week training exercise, which included one mission scenario to medevac a downed pilot from behind enemy lines.
A rescue team comprised of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters from the 33rd Rescue Squadron and A-10 Thunderbolt II planes from the 25th FS were tasked with finding and extracting the pilot, who had been dropped off in a remote area for the exercise. The only communication the team had with the pilot was a combat survivor evader locator, a secure two-way, over-the-horizon data communications device.
The mission involved more than just SAR and used over 30 assets, ranging from the survival, evasion, resistance and escape personal on the ground to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.
Master Sgt Vincent, a 33rd RQS evaluator special mission aviator, stressed the importance of practising combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions: “CSAR is one of the most complicated and dynamic tasks we can be called to do in the Air Force. We’re not trying to take out one or two targets; we’re going to an unknown area with an unknown amount of enemy threats to pick up a survivor.”
1st Lt Sky Lesh, who played the downed pilot in the exercise, said that the exercise had given him a new found sense of appreciation for the effort and co-ordination that are necessary to carry out a CSAR mission. He added: “It was phenomenal seeing the A-10s crest over the ridge and the HH-60s rounding the bend at 50 ft [15 m]. They had no idea where I was today, but were able to work together to find me and get me out.”