“I’m in charge of every thing that flies for this exercise,” explained Lieutenant-Colonel Jeff Smyth, the air component coordination element (ACCE) director for Exercise Maple Resolve 2012.
“In total, it’s 33 aircraft, although they’re not all in the airspace at the same time.”
Exercise Maple Resolve, which wrapped up November 1 at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Wainwright in Alberta, was a challenging month for the almost 4,000 soldiers focused on combined arms scenarios in a complex training environment. Aircrews from the Royal Canadian Air Force were actively involved in all aspects of training on the exercise.
“We have different layers of airspace over CFB Wainwright; it’s actually quite complex,” said LCol Smyth, an experienced CH-146 Griffon pilot and the senior RCAF officer for the exercise.
“There’s the aircraft within CFB Wainwright (that normally belongs to the military) operating within restricted airspace. Outside of that, at the ground level, there’s also a large temporary tactical low-flying area. That allows the helicopters to fly down to tactical altitudes like 15 to 50 feet above obstacles.”
A military air traffic control unit from 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based in Edmonton, operated at CFB Wainwright to control airspace and coordinated with Navigation Canada.
The temporary low-flying area was about 50 by 40 kilometres. During the exercise, another block of airspace, measuring about 80 by 40 kilometres, was shared with the Edmonton airport.
“It’s quite a big block, and there’s a lot of airspace coordination that needs to happen to make sure that everybody is able to use the airspace when they need it,” said LCol Smyth.
“Maple Resolve is great training for the crews and those who load the aircraft,” he continued. “It’s also great training for the soldiers on the ground who recover the parachutes and distribute the food and water, because it all fits within the exercise scenarios. That’s part of the integration between the Air Force and Army that we’ve been doing on this exercise, and makes it realistic like on normal operations.”
“Maple Resolve is a high-readiness exercise for elements that the Army and Air Force are [preparing] for any deployments that the Government of Canada would want to send us on,” said Major Clint Schoepp, lead planner for the exercise.
The aircraft included RCAF transport aircraft for strategic capabilities, and helicopters and aerial reconnaissance units for tactical purposes, as well as Alpha jets flown by Top Aces — an organization contracted by National Defence to provide airborne training services to the Canadian Forces.
The U.S. Army National Guard contributed four C-147 Chinook helicopters and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. As well, a platoon from the Oregon National Guard operated four “Shadow” unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and a civilian contractor from Colorado flew a Cessna 182, providing 24/7 aerial surveillance over the CFB Wainwright training area.
“440 [Transport] Squadron from Yellowknife has a Twin Otter [here], and there’s an Aurora aircraft from [19 Wing] Comox that flies here and participates for about six hours a day,” said LCol Smyth. In addition, a CC-130 Hercules aircraft provided airlift to deliver supplies to ground troops and transport mock refugees.
Eight CH-146 Griffon helicopters and aircrews from 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, based at CFB Valcartier, Que., were actively engaged in the exercise scenarios that took place every day.
“Normally … we have a logistics base where there’s a big airport and a seaport to bring in the supplies we need,” said LCol Smyth. “The CC-130 Hercules aircraft move supplies forward, closer to where the battle is. Having a forward operating base allows us to bring in diesel, food, spare parts and so on.”
During Maple Resolve, some supplies were delivered by ground transport and others by aircraft. For example, the CC-130 Hercules did a 24 bundle container delivery system (CDS) drop on an airfield close to the “refugees” to provide food and water. It was the first time that the Hercules fleet had made such a massive delivery and, as of October 25, they had carried out three such drops during the exercise.
“This exercise allows us to get the Air Force more involved and integrated into the training scenarios,” emphasized LCol Smyth, “[and] it allows the Army to better understand how the Air Force works, and vice versa.
“The next time we go on operations, we’ve already worked together, so it’s not a surprise.
“For the Army officers [who] are working here, if they have a question about Air Force stuff, they know who to ask and vice versa. That’s really the bigger picture of the Air Force-Army integration,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re all on the same team in the CF, and our job is to do the same stuff on behalf of Canadians.”
This article was originally published, in a slightly different form in The Western Sentinel (available in language of origin only), by 1 Area Support Group, Edmonton, Alta.