The 31st Operations Group (a flying component of the 31st Fighter Wing, assigned to the United States Air Force in Europe and being stationed at Aviano Air Base in Italy) has recently completed the annual training codenamed as ´Operation Porcupine´. This year, the exercise took place in Romania, within an area of the Joint National Training Center in Cincu (Brașov county).
´Operation Porcupine´ is an annual exercise focused on testing and improving the diverse capabilities of the different squadrons within the 31st OG and their interoperability. The 2021 edition of this combat and rescue training was held on Thursday, 4th March.
Usually, the exercise scenario is based on the real escape and rescue experiences. The fighter pilot is shot down and must evade the enemy forces on the ground, until reaching the area where he could be rescued by a helicopter team. The flying rescue units have to infiltrate the enemy without being spotted, avoid the anti-aircraft fire and finally pick up the pilot and return him home safely. Although the exercise is repeated on annual basis the planners are regularly upgrading the scenario, not making it easy for all participants.
Pilots are trained in evading enemy forces, with the assistance of a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape trainer from the 31st Operations Support Squadron. In addition, the downed pilots simulate some common injuries (as broken leg in 2020 or broken arm and pain in the back during the current edition). Such simulation is not only making the pararescuers´ task more complicated, but also is helping the airman to learn how to survive with such injuries and still being capable of evading the enemy.
The 2021 edition of the exercise, organized in Romania, involved the US F-16 fighters, HH-60 helicopters and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, together with participation of US and Romanian Joint Terminal Attack Controllers.
This year´s scenario simulated an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot being shot down over the enemy controlled area. The 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons, 510th Fighter Squadron (providing the air support) and 606th Air Control Squadron (ensuring the Command and Control duties from the ground) were working together to localize and recover the pilot in a simulated contested environment.
´The scenario is an isolated F-16 pilot who had to eject from the aircraft,´ said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Richard Bush, 56th Rescue Squadron pilot. ´Our ultimate goal is to rescue that pilot before he is captured by enemy forces.´
The 56th and 57th RQS responded to the downed pilot in an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter within the hour. ´Our role in the HH-60’s is to provide a rescue asset to aid in the recovery of any isolated personnel, should that situation occur,´ Bush said.
A regular participation in complex exercises, such as ´Operation Porcupine´, ensures the combat readiness of the 31st OG and provides a level of training necessary to operate in unique geographic area of Europe.
All photos © U.S. Department of Defence (DoD), cover photo by A1C Ericka Woolever (HH-60G, Operation Porcupine 2020), other photos by A1C Thomas Keisler. All quotations © U.S. DoD and DoD information materials were used, in compliance with Public Domain licence. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.