Air Wing: CVW-7
Ship: CVN-75 USS Harry S. Truman
Squadron: VFA-25 Fist of the Fleet
A good friend of mine, LT C. “Wingnut” Wickware, has just returned from a deployment aboard the USS Harry S. Truman. He took a few moments to share his experiences with the Fighter Sweep community.
FS: Hey Wingnut. Thanks for answering some questions about your recent deployment for the Fighter Sweep community. First of all, thanks for being there on the front lines taking the fight to ISIS. I understand you volunteered for this deployment. Can you tell us a little of what motivated you to do so?
My pleasure Paco. Personally, there’s nothing quite like being deployed with an operational squadron aboard an aircraft carrier engaged in conducting combat mission. You’re at the tip of our nation’s spear, putting all your years of training and experience to the test. It’s an experience that, in its entirety, is incredibly unique and is the reason I joined in the Navy in the first place. Furthermore, in the wake of continued horrific attacks conducted by ISIL in areas like Paris, Brussels, California, and all over the world, the importance of the mission we are flying is made clear through a chilling and very personal reminder. When the opportunity arose to leave my relatively comfortable shore tour as an F/A-18E/F flight instructor and join VFA-25 for a combat deployment, I jumped at the chance.
FS: How long will you have been gone, from the day you pulled anchor to the fly-in at Lemoore?
We were originally scheduled for a seven month deployment which has recently been extended to eight months from start to finish by the time we get back home. This extension is part of a broad plan to apply accelerants to support the President’s number one priority, to defeat and destroy ISIL.
FS: As a pilot, you can never get enough hours or traps (carrier landings), but do you feel like you got a sufficient number of both? How much of the flying was in country?
The beauty of being deployed out on the ship while engaged in a high operational tempo is that there is never a shortage of hours or traps. We fly at least once a day and with most missions being 7 hours long, you definitely get your fill. That being said, I can’t imagine a world where I have enough of either.
FS: Without disrupting Operational Security, can you give us a sense of the Ops Tempo? What was the usage rate for the squadron and the air wing while on station? Do you have any of the standard PAO numbers of ordinance expended?
The air wing will typically support on average 8 combat sorties a day, requiring a section (pair) of jets each sortie. This will vary depending on the daily tasking. I would say we employ ordnance on about 70% of the missions, but we are always utilized in one way or another. In addition to going “kinetic”, our ATFLIR targeting pod allows us to contribute to the ISR (intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance) component of the fight. As of today, Carrier Air Wing Seven has expended a record 1,598 pieces of ordnance in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
FS: I know it’s difficult to evaluate the bigger picture when you’re in the cockpit and stuck on the ship, but do you have a sense of the effectiveness of the coalition’s effort to hamper ISIS and assist the forces on the ground working to root them out?
The interesting thing about being out here for the good part of a year is that we are able to really see the battlespace develop over the course of that time. We get daily intelligence briefs before each flight and from those get a feel for the evolution of the battlespace and progression the FLOT (forward line of [friendly] troops) on the ground clearing out the enemy combatants in major areas such as Fallujah and Ramadi. From a pilot’s perspective alone, considering how often we are utilized and to what extent, it’s apparent the devastating impact we are having on ISIL’s ability to operate.
FS: Can you give us a sense of the specific mission types flown?
Our primary mission is to deny and degrade the enemy. As a strike fighter pilot flying the F/A-18E, that mission is accomplished by acting as a weapon delivery platform as well as integrating with the ISR mainframe to identify, track, and ultimately target hostile forces. We will typically fly two types of missions “over the beach”: close air support (CAS) missions, and deliberate strikes.
CAS missions are usually around 7 hours long where we are “on station” at a predetermined area, period of time, and with a specific JTAC (Joint Terminal Air Controller). Each aircraft will launch with a predetermined ordnance load-out. From here we operate as on-call striking platforms for the ground commanders for a variety of situations. If a strike is not immediately needed, we will perform “armed overwatch” for friendly forces on the ground or scanning for any suspicious activity. This is done through integration of ISR platforms such as ground observation units and RPAs (remotely piloted aircraft). More often than not however, we will be called upon to employ one or more of our weapons on targets simultaneously. This process can happen extremely fast due to the highly dynamic ground situation and requires a great amount of skill and focus from the pilot to ensure the correct targets are prosecuted in a timely and effective manner.
Dynamic strike missions (aka pre-planned missions) are ones where we launch with the specific targets and the weapons to be used on those targets pre-determined. Depending on the type and size of the targets, the amount of aircraft and weapons used can vary significantly. Often, these will be joint strikes utilizing other branches of service as well as coalition air forces.
FS: Was there ever any concern about coordination between the various air forces buzzing about Syria and Iraq? How many nations have strike aircraft involved in the region and what level of communication and cooperation exists?
The OIR air campaign is a coalition effort supported by 65 nations. Because of this, the coordination and separation of these air forces is always a concern and challenge and therefore operate under the same tactical control frequencies utilizing strict airspace management and delegation procedures. While operating around Russian forces we had a shared memorandum of understanding to deconflict air space and both sides adopted an avoidance mindset which proved effective. We saw very little issues with this.
FS: Anything else you think might be interesting for our community to hear?
Being deployed aboard an aircraft carrier for 8 months conducting combat operations is obviously not an easy task both mentally and logistically. We are away from our families, flying dangerous missions and in dangerous conditions. The success of each flight is not limited to the performance of the pilots and aircrew operating those aircraft over hostile territory. Rather it is a team effort that hinges on the exceptional performance of each and every one of the 5,000 people aboard the ship all coming together for one goal. It is because of the support from our friends and family and all of you back home that make that possible. You are the reason we do what we do. Thank you very much for all the support and we look forward to seeing you back home soon!
FS: We look forward to some of your specific stories but for now, thanks for the update. All the best on your return journey.