NOVEMBER 16, 2016, MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan, By Cpl. Aaron Henson – U.S. Marines with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225 conclude exercise Cope West 17 at Sam Ratulangi International Airport, Indonesia, on Nov. 11, 2016.
Cope West 17 is a fighter-focused exercise lead by Pacific Air Forces and executed by the U.S. Marine Corps and Indonesian Air Force to enhance the readiness of combined interoperability between the two nations.
The relationship between the U.S. and Indonesia is vital to promote stability throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. The joint interoperability within the U.S. forces made this fighter-focused exercise possible this year. First conducted in 1989, Cope West is a Pacific Air Forces sponsored exercise, normally focusing on airlift, air-land and air drop delivery operation techniques.
“The exercise offers an opportunity to advance interoperability between the U.S. military and Indonesian Air Forces, allows for the exchange of techniques related to this training specific to U.S. and Indonesian aircraft, and promotes regional stability through cooperation, improved mutual understanding and enhancing already strong partnerships,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher K. Faurot, Cope West 17 exercise liaison and PACAF Director Air National Guard Forces. “These activities enhance relations between the United States and Indonesia while providing valuable training.”
When PACAF could not support the Indonesian’s request, they reached out to the Navy and Marine Corps for support. PACAF and Marine Forces Pacific were able to achieve a joint solution for this bilateral exercise because of their existing good relationship.
The Marine Corps was eager to execute this historic exercise and was able to provide enough personnel and equipment to support the first fighter-focused training iteration between the U.S. and Indonesia in 19 years.
“PACAF reached out to MARFORPAC for assistance when late-breaking changes in the exercise plan left them with no USAF fighter units available to support Cope West 17,” said Faurot. “The ‘cope series’ exercises are normally Air Force bilateral engagements with regional partners, and this year’s exercise marks the first time a ‘joint’ solution was utilized to meet partner nations’ desires.”
The squadron completed their unit air-to-air training requirements, which focused on basic fighter maneuvering, section engaged maneuvering, offensive anti-air warfare and active air defense versus the Indonesian Air Force to increase situational readiness, interoperability, knowledge and partnership between the U.S. and Indonesia.
“The Marines of Cope West came from all over the Pacific,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stephen N. McClune, commanding officer of VMFA225. “VMFA 225 came from California and is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni currently as part of a Unit Deployment Program. We also have units that came from Okinawa and Iwakuni such as Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, who helped set up M-31 Expeditionary Arresting Gear and provided logistics and camp commandant type duties. We also had Marine Air Control Squadron 4 Detachment B and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, which helped with ground support equipment and supplies to keep our aircraft flying.”
Both the U.S. F/A-18D Hornets and Indonesian F-16 Fighting Falcons bring unique capabilities affording the associated nations the opportunity to learn and understand each other’s skills, preparing them for real world contingencies and further strengthening their relationship.
“The Indonesian pilots were very friendly and took us in right away,” said McClune. “With fighter pilots, there is always the initial natural distrust but over time we developed a very warm relationship. They invited us to dinner where we had a great time and sang some karaoke. Likewise, they were our guests at our Marine Corps Birthday cake-cutting ceremony.”
The combined training offered by this exercise helps prepare the U.S. Marine Corps and Indonesia Air Force to work together in promoting a peaceful Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It also allows the services to practice air-to-air training, which enhances their ability to respond to contingencies throughout the region.
“Each service has their own exercises designed to meet the training and readiness needs of their personnel,” said Faurot. “While Cope West is normally a U.S. Air Force exercise, the success of this year’s joint solution with the Marine Corps has clearly demonstrated the benefits of increased interoperability amongst the services in the PACOM area of operations. The exercise was a resounding success at all levels. The two countries wrapped up with an 81% mission success rate with the only losses due to weather cancellation. The interaction between the U.S. Marines and the Indonesian Air Force was noteworthy and resulted in all participants walking away better for the experience with a greater appreciation of each other’s capabilities.”