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60th Fighter Squadron Crows develop the skills and mindset for future combat

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Christian Corley
  • 33rd Fighter Wing

The 60th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit conducted off-station training at Savannah Air National Guard Base, Georgia Feb. 2-22, 2024 where they aimed to maximize flight hours in the F-35A Lightning II by avoiding weather attrition, while learning to navigate a new airspace and working with other units.  

Training in an unfamiliar environment gives pilots a chance to utilize skills that they wouldn’t normally use at their home station. 

“Anytime you go off station, you have to learn local area procedures, airspace, and controlling agencies; it’s a huge benefit and prepares you that much more down range,” said Maj. Brendan Moran, 60th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations for training. “On paper, [Savannah and Eglin’s] airspaces look similar since they’re both over water, however, the airspace here on the east coast allows for larger and longer flights because it's considerably less congested than the airspace at Eglin.” 

Using these skills ensures pilots enhance their mission readiness for future combat. 

“Off station training is crucial to the development of fighter pilots because it forces us to think through every aspect of the mission, to include getting to and from the fight,” said Moran. “At home, it is possible to get so used to the standard departure, airspace and recovery that a pilot will not have to dedicate much thought and can focus entirely on the tactics during the mission. This is unrealistic compared to what a fighter pilot will experience in a deployed environment.” 

Operating away from home showcases the Agile Combat Employment concept, ACE, by challenging the maintenance units to keep jets flying with limited resources.  

“While on the road, we utilize a minimum-manning package, where we take less maintainers but are expected to fly the same as we do at home,” said Warren. “The maintainers that we bring have to use the skills that they’ve learned from training on a daily basis.” 

To overcome these challenges and execute the mission, the 60th AMU ensured they were prepared long before the training operation began.  

“Three months prior to this TDY, we were preparing scheduled maintenance, so when we were on the road, we wouldn’t have to spend down time doing that with the limited amount of facilities and support equipment we have here,” said Warren. “We also document and perform unscheduled maintenance. If an aircraft breaks, we take the time to fix it, so when the pilots step to their jet, they know it’s safe and reliable.” 

The interoperability between the pilots and maintainers is essential to mission completion. 

“We need the pilots to fly planes, we need the maintenance group to keep the planes flying,” said Moran. “We can never accomplish the mission without all of the units coming together.”  

The 60th FS also collaborated with other branches of service, which offered the chance to engage with various airframes in a joint aspect.  

The TDY accomplished historical feats as the Crows had the rare opportunity to train with all three F-35 variants in air-to-air combat practice, along with F-16CMs and F-15Cs.  Additionally, the U.S. Navy’s F-35Cs launched from the USS George Washington marking the first real-time coordination between a carrier conducting F-35C flight operations and airborne USAF F-35A pilots. 

Integration helps simulate an operational environment by relying on communication between units.  

“Communication can make or break any large-scale combat endeavor,” said Moran.  “You don’t want the first time you hear a Marine or Navy specific term to be when you’re crossing the line into enemy territory. The more exposure we can get during training to the ways others conduct their business, the better.” 

While on TDY, the limited manning requires shops to work in close proximity with one another, which creates tight bonds and strengthens unit morale. 

“When people within a squadron can get to know each other better and work closer as a unit, it boosts the warfighting capability of that unit,” said Moran. “You tend to generate stronger, more lasting relationships with those you work with when you get to TDY.” 

Moran and Warren commend Savannah’s units, as well as everybody both on TDY and at home station for making sure the mission gets executed. 

“Anytime you can build relationships with different platforms and especially different branches, you make yourself that much more lethal in a combat environment,” said Moran. “It’s important to challenge ourselves with new requirements and non-standard practices to make ourselves better, just like the need to lift heavier weight if you want to build muscle. We are a part of the machine that builds Air Force fighter pilots.” 

The Crows completed training in Savannah with 212 sorties flown, a total flight duration of 312.2 hours, the certification of three 60FS instructor pilots, resulting in a substantial increase to the squadron’s sortie effectiveness rate and overall readiness to fight.