Airmen from the Royal Canadian Air Force are conducting training operations on White Sands Missile Range to keep its air traffic controller sharp and get its new pilots experience in the air.
Manning the radar systems at WSMR’s Cherokee Air Traffic Control Center, the Airmen from the 42 Radar Squadron out of Cold Lake Alberta are playing a vital role in their militaries’ pilot training program. The training event is a month long operation conducted on WSMR and neighboring Holloman Air Force Base, and sees the Canadians bring in new pilots with the 410 Tactical Fighter Operational Training Squadron for training on the Canadian version of the F-18 fighter jet. “This exercise is called Exercise Puma Strike and is the culmination of several exercises, which includes air to air combat training and air to ground combat training for the student pilots,” said Capt. Andrew Han of the 42 Radar Squadron.
While Canada conducts much of its training on its own soil, it was decided to leverage ties with the US and take the training event to New Mexico, making use of the clear, and warmer weather and giving the airmen experience working with other allied military members. “At this time of the year we like to come down south where the weather is more inviting and more conducive to training,” said Capt. Ryan Hayes. While there are other installations around the country that might have also worked for the training event, WSMR was the one best suited. It’s proximity to Holloman gave the aircraft access to a full featured military airbase, and WSMR’s DoD controlled airspace allowed the aircraft to perform the maneuvers needed for the training safely, and allowed Canada to provide its own air controllers to ensure the trainees learned how to work with their counterparts on the ground.”Cherokee is an air traffic control station, but it compares very favorably to what we have back at our home base,” Hayes said.
While the new pilots fly overhead, they must work as a team with the experienced controllers on WSMR if they want to survive the various combat training scenarios they are being put through. Fighter jet radar systems, while extremely advanced and powerful systems, can typically only see within a limited area, usually in front of the aircraft. If the pilots in training want to know about anything in the air around them, they need to rely on their comrades at Cherokee. Ground based radar systems can generate a plethora of information about what’s in the airspace, so the controllers on the ground can be the fighter pilots eyes, spotting potential targets and threats long before they’d be visible to the aircraft. “We are able to provide way more information then what they have on their radar scope,” Han said.
The controllers at Cherokee have several roles in the training event. As safety is a primary concern the Airmen work with WSMR Airmen and civilian controllers to ensure the airspace is clear and safe. Within the training the Airmen take on the role of the ground control teams for the blue force composed of the pilots being trained and the red force, composed of more experienced pilots acting as enemy aircraft. From their position in Cherokee the Airmen can then communicate with the pilots in the air, locating opposing aircraft, guiding the pilots in training to their targets and providing them with critical tactical information about the airspace.
As one of the US Army Test and Evaluation Command’s premiere range facilities, WSMR has decades of experience conducting training and testing missions for both the US and allied nations. “White Sands Missile Range, and specifically here at the Range control center for Cherokee have been very inviting and (have been very helpful) in facilitating our use of the airspace and their system s here, and we’d like to give a personal thanks to the people here at Cherokee and the White Sands Base,” Hayes said.