Northern Edge 21 Achieves Operational Test Advances for Airmen, Weapons Systems

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Source: U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray
Source: U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Savanah Bray

May 25, 2021 | Originally published by U.S Air Force on May 20, 2021


As exercise Northern Edge 21 concludes, the 53rd Wing is returning home May 3-14, after having achieved major test objectives for multiple weapons systems.

In addition to F-15EX Eagle II deep end testing and B-52 Stratofortress long-range kill chain milestones for hypersonic weapons, the 53rd Wing’s F-35A Lightning IIsMQ-9 ReapersF-15C Eagles and F-15E Strike Eagles all progressed their software, hardware, and tactics while at Northern Edge.

“Northern Edge is an essential event for operational tests,” said Col. Ryan Messer, 53rd Wing Commander. “It is one of only a handful of exercises that combine great power competition-level threat complexities with the joint interoperability necessary to realistically inform our test data. The individuals in the 53rd Wing continue to inspire me with how they challenge themselves and their programs in complex environments, ensuring we deliver the most lethal, ready, and capable force for our nation.”

By platform, here is what the 53rd Wing operationally tested while at Northern Edge 21.

F-35A Lightning II

The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, recently fielded a new Operational Flight Program, Suite 30P06, to the combat air forces’ F-35s. As the new OFP rolls out, Northern Edge allowed operational testers to evaluate how the software functioned in a realistic threat environment to both inform the tactics associated with the software and provide greater feedback to the Combat Air Forces.

“At Northern Edge, we are validating our assumptions that we made in the OFP test process on a grand, realistic scale and incorporating WEPTAC Tactics Improvement Proposals,” said Maj. Scott Portue, 422 TES F-35 pilot.

These Tactics Improvement Proposals, known as “TIPs,” are established at the annual weapons and tactics conference. TIPs being tested at Northern Edge by the 422 TES include F-35 emissions control or minimizing the F-35’s emissions to get closer to the adversary and fourth-to-fifth (and fifth-to-fourth) electronic attack tactics, techniques, and procedures.

“As a fifth-gen. asset, we have stealth, so we can physically get closer, but we may not have all the weapons that a fourth-gen. aircraft like a (F-15) Strike Eagle does. We’re trying to figure out how we (fourth- and fifth-generation platforms) can benefit each other so that we can get closer to the adversary,” Portue said.

Portue explained that the Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System, or EPAWSS, on an F-15, for example, can benefit an F-35 by allowing them to get closer to the enemy without using their own radar or employing their own EA (electronic attack). Additionally, the F-35 testers accomplished missions in the Gulf of Alaska, exploring maritime tactics and joint interoperability.

“When we talk about fourth- and fifth-gen. integration, we absolutely mean joint integration. Northern Edge is the biggest melting pot that we have as a joint force in which we can test the most cutting-edge technologies, OFPs (operational flight program), and tactics and see how they match up against a near-peer threat,” Portue said.


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