(From left) U.S. Navy Lt Cdr. Erik Halvorson, an Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 134 EA-18 Growler pilot, and U.S. Air Force Capt. James Broncheau, a 13th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, disembark a Growler after a familiarization flight at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 18, 2018. The familiarization flight gave the opportunity for each pilot to experience the capabilities and responsibilities of each aircraft, while enhancing the understanding of each jet’s role in different missions. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Deana Heitzman)
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The “can I wear your shirt?” question is common between many siblings, but for sister-service pilots here at Misawa AB, they borrowed more than a wardrobe piece--they offered each other rides in their respective aircraft.
U.S. Navy Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 134 EA-18G Growler and U.S. Air Force 13th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots exchanged familiarization flights throughout the past few weeks to better understand their respective roles during sorties across Asia-Pacific skies.
“Our primary mission set at Misawa is suppression of enemy air defenses, or SEAD, and the Growlers play a large role during those sorties,” said Capt. James Broncheau, a 13th FS F-16 pilot. “Their jamming pods are used to deter enemy radars from seeing our F-16s during a SEAD mission.”
The main reason for the flight swap was for both sets of pilots to experience each other’s tactics, responsibilities and aircraft capabilities to allow for seamless integration during sorties.
“Flying in the F-16 helped me understand what their capabilities are and what they can see on their sensors,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Tyler Vitti, a VAQ-134 EA-18G pilot. “It was also just an amazing time—16s are much faster, and I am grateful for this opportunity.”
For Viper pilots, this was a step toward better communication with the Growler pilots, both on the radio and data link servers.
“I can tailor the information transmitted to our Navy partners because I have seen first-hand what they see in their displays,” said Broncheau. “Knowing exactly what information is needed to employ weapons or use their jamming pods can help enhance communication efforts when we are executing missions together.”
VAQ-134, stationed out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, was at Misawa for five months as part of a routine rotation deployment within the region and flew with F-16s on a weekly basis. They also joined the 35th Fighter Wing for Exercise VILIGANT ACE at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea.
Putting differences and sibling rivalry aside, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for both sets of pilots strengthened the 35th FW's overall joint capabilities and enhanced its readiness posture.
“I would absolutely do this again,” added Vitti. “Both aircraft execute the SEAD mission, and what better way to understand the other side than to live it in the backseat of another aircraft.”