USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2 are participating in Exercise Valiant Shield 06 June 19-23, with more than 200 U.S. military aircraft in the Western Pacific.
Valiant Shield is a joint exercise that will put those aircraft and support crews who maintain them to the test in a dynamic environment.
Stepping up to meet that challenge are CVW-2's F/A-18 Hornets of the Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 137 "Kestrels," VFA-2 "Bounty Hunters", VFA-34 "Blue Blasters" and VFA-151 "Vigilantes."
"With the ability to engage air threats, attack ground targets and perform aerial refueling, the Hornets have quickly become the Navy's "go-to" aircraft for almost every mission that can be launched from the deck of a carrier," said Lt. Cmdr. Greg Newkirk, a pilot assigned to VFA-137.
Throughout Valiant Shield, the Hornet Squadrons flying from Abraham Lincoln will be showcasing these abilities.
"Our squadron will be doing the whole gamut, which includes strike group defense as well as offensive air-to-air, maritime interdiction, and we'll also be tanking other aircraft," said Newkirk.
According to Newkirk, tanking missions are one of the most crucial assets of a carrier strike group.
Refueling other aircraft in flight allows an air wing to not only fly longer missions, but also to operate in "blue water" areas, without support of land-based facilities and alternate airfields.
"We can go in the middle of the ocean and fly with no other landing options within thousands of miles. To do that safely, you need gas airborne. So if a guy's having trouble getting aboard because of a pitching deck or whatever, he has enough fuel to make multiple attempts," said Newkirk.
For pilots and planners, the most significant training opportunity presented by Valiant Shield is the challenge of having so many planes in the air at once. The Kestrels and the Bounty Hunters will be sharing the skies with many different aircraft.
Also participating in the exercise are aircraft from the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Groups, the Marine Corps and the Air Force, including B-2 stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
"There are a lot of people in the skies, so de-confliction is a real challenge," said Newkirk.
Navy aircraft from each air wing joined together with Air Force fighter escorts for an extended series of massive simulate air strikes, according to Lt. Eric Peterson of VFA-137 aboard Lincoln.
"It is similar to flying sustained strike missions in the (Persian) Gulf," said Peterson. He explained that the biggest challenge was control - the aircraft would fall under varying controllers, including U.S. Air Force Airborne Warning And Control Systems (AWACS), Navy ships or E-2C "Hawkeyes." Aircraft will also be utilizing both Navy Super Hornets as tankers and Air Force KC-135 aircraft, making the coordination of events complex.
Valiant Shield is a joint exercise that demonstrates the U.S. military's ability to conduct robust, joint command-and-control operations and rapidly bring together joint forces in response to any regional contingency. The exercise also demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the Pacific region.
Valiant Shield marks the first time three carrier strike groups have operated jointly in the Pacific in more than a decade.
To learn more about Valiant Shield, visit the Web site at www.pacom.mil.
For related news, visit the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.