Northern Edge brings synergy to Arctic skies

Northern Edge brings synergy to Arctic skies

Northern Edge 2017 is Alaska’s premiere joint-training exercise designed to practice operations, techniques, and procedures as well as enhance interoperability among the services. The joint exercise, held May 1-12 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, uses Alaska’s massive range area and is composed of more than 6,000 service members across all service branches. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Travis Litke)

By Jamie Rogers

For the past two weeks, some of the of top members of our U.S. armed forces were training at the top of the world for Northern Edge 2017. Thousands of participants from all branches — including Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active-duty, Reserve and National Guard units — have been participating in the joint training held May 1-12 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

As the premier joint training exercise in the Last Frontier, Northern Edge is a biannual opportunity to practice operations, techniques and procedures while enhancing interoperability among the services. It is one in a series of U.S. Pacific Command exercises that prepare joint forces to respond to crises in the Asia Pacific region.

About 6,000 service members, 200 fixed wing aircraft, maritime forces and additional equipment are involved in NE17, hosted by the Alaskan Command.

“We have specific mission objectives on every ‘Go’,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force Commander. “We’ve got additional new hardware, additional new software — brand new to the forces — that we’re trying out during the scenario, so we can learn those tactics, techniques and procedures.”

This is the first year the F-35 Lightning II will be participating in NE17, with two Marine Corps squadrons attending. The exercise provides unmatched tactical opportunities across the joint forces as it integrates fourth and fifth generational aircraft and F-22s and F-35s flying together.

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35 Lighting II attached to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, takes off for a training mission during Northern Edge, May 2, 2017. (Photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Travis Litke)


The geography and vast terrain of the 49th state make it especially useful for aerial training. In fact, Alaska provides the only available range space to practice techniques, tactics and procedures for Airmen, Soldiers, Marines and Sailors.

“What’s unique is the fact that Alaska offers us the opportunity to put this large number of aircraft together in both over-land and over-water airspace,” said Air Force Col. Christopher Niemi, 3rd Wing Commander. “When you look at the airspace available in the Lower 48 (states), it’s typically constrained with the number of airline routes you have.”

All that space means aircraft have more room to work with, and often they stay in the air longer as well. And while the sleek F-22 Raptor and F-35B Lightning II may zoom past the beauty of Chugach Mountains, the hefty KC-10 Extender makes sure these jets have fuel to keep flying. The KC-10 can deliver 200,000 pounds of fuel to a receiver 2,200 statute miles from home base, making the aircraft vital to mission success.

“During this exercise, we can keep the fighters in the air all day, so that the pilots can focus on training and not landing to refuel,” said Air Force Capt. Nathan Reineke, 9th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 pilot, Travis Air Force Base, California.

This capability allows the tanker to refuel an Air Force asset, switch to a Navy or Marine Corps asset, and then back to an Air Force airframe within minutes. Not limited to servicing United States aircraft only, KC-10 crews have the capability to refuel any North Atlantic Treaty Organization aircraft in-flight. Reineke added that training during the NE17 gives U.S. forces a special chance to practice techniques so that each branch and our foreign allies can be ready as a cohesive team against adversaries.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor is refueled by a KC-10 Extender from the 9th Air Refueling Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during exercise Northern Edge 2017, May 4, 2017. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Westin Warburton)


Participants in Northern Edge 17 included:

Air Force

18th Wing

53rd Wing

552nd Air Control Wing

354th Fighter Wing

35th Fighter Wing

52nd Fighter Wing

4th Fighter Wing

940th Air Refueling Wing

514th Air Refueling Wing

92d Air Refueling Wing

168th Air Refueling Wing

7th Bomb Wing


Carrier Strike Group ONE

Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10


3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

1st Marine Aircraft Wing


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