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Red Flag Alaska: Eielson’s ‘playground’ and the airmen who manage it

The 354th Range Squadron is tasked with managing and maintaining the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC) where aircraft from the U.S. and it’s allies conduct simulated combat training.
Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 6:41 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - During Red Flag Alaska, airmen from Eielson Air Force Base are tasked with helping train pilots from around the world. In the air they use F-16 pilots pretending to be the enemy, otherwise known as the aggressors. On the ground, there is the 354th Range Squadron.

“Viewing what we do in the Range Squadron as the ground based aggressor squadron with our system of surface to air missile threats,” Capt. Chuck Hohnbaun, Program Manager for the 354th, said.

Lt. Col. Dan Wynn, the commander of the Range Squadron said they manage the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, or JPARC, “which is essentially the playground... where Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine and aircraft from all around the world come to get world class training against sophisticated enemy threats.”

He said the 354th tries to replicate enemies surface to ground weapons, “Here on the JPARC we have a lot of different systems that provide realistic training to the aircraft that come here to train.”

Hohnbaun also said that his job is to ensure that their systems are up to date, “As our adversaries upgrade their systems, we have to upgrade our training systems to match. You don’t want to be going into a fight with old technology as your training base when that is not what you are actually going to be facing.” They do this by taking intelligence of enemy systems and trying to replicate them in the JPARC.

On the range they use real systems like radar as well as fake targets to help train fighter pilots.

“We just have to make sure that the equipment looks realistic in those sensors. So even though us standing here from 10 feet away we can tell that that’s probably not a real surface to air missile, for the aircraft it looks just like the real thing,” said Wynn. Some of the targets are made from old culverts or plywood to replicate what a target would look like to a jet. He said while they don’t shoot actual missiles, they still get the same type of training. '

They also use the range to drop real weapons on targets. He said one of the jobs of the Range Squadron is to make sure there are no unexploded ordinances on the ground in the JPARC.

Wynn said the JPARC is the perfect place to train pilots, “The training airspace and the land that we have here in Alaska is absolutely unmatched both in size and scope. I can tell you without a doubt that this is the best place to train fighter, bomber aircraft, attack helicopters.” The JPARC is the size of the state of Indiana. He said they are thankful that the State of Alaska and the Federal Aviation Administration lets them train on and above the land.

In explaining the role of the JPARC and Range Squadron, Wynn used a football analogy.

“It’s sort of like going to the super bowl. You know when they are back home they practice all the blocking and tackling and running the plays, and then they get here for red flag, put it all together in a very large group, a very contested environment, to simulate actual warfare and see how they perform,” he said.

Without the JPARC and the work of the range squadron, he said the jets would not have a playing field.

“The JPARC is... the stage for the Red Flag Alaska exercise. One of the things that makes it so great is the playing field we have here on the JPARC,” Wynn said.

This is the third installment in our series about Red Flag Alaska. In the previous story we focused on the work of the ground crew at Eielson and how they keep airplanes in the air. In the next story we will join the F-16 Aggressors as they play the role of ‘bad guy’ in the war games.

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