Exercise Pacific Thunder 18-1 is now in progress, having kicked off on 23 October at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea (ROK).
The US Air Force (USAF) described the event as one of the largest joint combat search and rescue (CSAR) exercises in the Pacific region. And this year, Pacific Thunder is bigger than ever, said the USAF, with more than 20 US squadrons and nine ROK wings involved, giving the USAF’s 25th Fighter Squadron and 33rd and 31st Rescue Squadrons opportunities to train in simulated CSAR missions while working alongside their Korean counterparts.
“Pacific Thunder originally started in 2009 as a one-week exercise between the 25th Fighter Squadron and the 33rd Rescue Squadron and has since grown into a PACAF-level exercise,” said Thunder 18-1 co-ordinator Capt. Travis Vayda, 25th Fighter Squadron Pacific.
Although the annual exercise now has a wide range of units participating, it is still centred on the 25th FS and 33rd RQS, noted the USAF.
“CSAR is one of the most important mission sets we have in the A-10 community because we are really the only fixed-wing asset in the Air Force who trains to the CSAR mission,” said Vayda. “We are the close muscle, so essentially we are the body guards of the person on the ground and the helicopters that are rescuing them. Obviously in a CSAR, you don’t want to have another type of shoot down or anything happen.”
During the exercise, the 33rd RQS is able to directly work with A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots from the 25th FS, a conjoined training that both units typically have to simulate.
“The realism of the exercise gives us an opportunity to really see how the 25th FS operates,” said Capt. Dirk Strykowski, 33rd RQS HH-60 Pave Hawk flight lead. “Back in Kadena [Japan], we pretend as best we can to know what these guys are going to sound like on the radio, what calls they’re going to make and what kind of information they are going to provide, but being able to come up here and refresh what that’s actually going to be like is probably the biggest take-away from the exercise.”
To make the exercise even more realistic, pararescuemen and SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) personnel from the 31st RQS are not only participating in rescue missions, but also role-playing as isolated personnel.
“The intent of this exercise is to train like you fight, and we are trying to replicate that as best we can,” said Strykowski. “We have a lot of support from our pararescue and SERE. They’re out there on the ground now pretending to be downed pilots. So every step of the way, we are making it as realistic as it can get.”