RCAF tankers keep RIMPAC fighters in the fray

News Article / September 9, 2014

By Captain Jeff Noel

Small in number but far in reach, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) air-to-air refuelling tanker force at Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014 delivered essential fuel to this year’s participants.

RIMPAC 2014, the most recent edition of the world’s premiere combined and joint maritime exercise, took place around the Hawaiian Islands and in San Diego from June 26 to August 1. More than 1,000 Canadian airmen, airwomen, sailors and soldiers participated in the exercise.

As part of the RCAF’s RIMPAC Air Task Force, two air-to-air refuelling detachments formed a highly versatile force in support of RIMPAC aircraft. Military aircrew, support personnel and a CC-130T Hercules from 435 Transport and Rescue (T&R) Squadron based at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba, and military aircrew, civilian support personnel and a CC-150T Polaris from 437 Transport (T) Squadron from 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, worked to ensure that aircraft involved in the exercise were refuelled quickly and safely.

“As the only non-US tanker force participating in this year’s exercise,” said 435 Squadron Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel David Lamarche, “the fact that we are operating both a Hercules and a Polaris here gives the air planners options they wouldn’t normally have.”

With hundreds of aircraft involved in this year’s RIMPAC, the ability to train with Canada’s allies in a multinational environment was a key reason for making the journey so far from home.

“It’s a dynamic, dangerous environment we fly in,” said Captain Dana Sponder, a first-time tanker commander with 437 Squadron, nicknamed ‘The Huskies’. “But we do a lot of training before we deploy, and everyone is totally focused on safety before, during and after the mission.”

The ability to conduct so many missions in a short time allowed personnel from each RCAF tanker squadron to strengthen their skill-sets, and provided the opportunity for newer members to upgrade their qualifications.

“At home we train with our fighters at 3 Wing Bagotville [Quebec] and 4 Wing Cold Lake [Alberta] throughout the year, and it gets pretty routine,” Captain Sponder said. “But RIMPAC and deployments such as Operation Ignition in Iceland are so dynamic and all-encompassing that everyone works full-out all the time for days on end to achieve the mission. It really hones our skills.”

Even so, with all the flying done by RCAF tankers and their crews at RIMPAC, there were no ‘typical’ missions flown.

“During one afternoon mission,” CC-150T Polaris First Officer Captain Sean Hill said, “we refueled US Navy Super Hornet fighters, our own CF-18 Hornets, and a very unique—for us—US Navy FA-18F, which is a fighter modified to serve as an air-to-air tanker.”

RIMPAC 2014 demonstrated that bringing together aircraft and personnel from different Wings and organizations such as 435 and 437 Squadrons, under the direct leadership and operational control of an Air Task Force, is a sound concept.

In total, this year’s RIMPAC, the 24th in the series that began in 1971, involved 25,000 personnel from 22 nations, more than 200 aircraft, 49 surface ships, and 6 submarines.


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