OSWEGO, NY – Several branches of the military are coming together next week for a first of its kind training exercise in Lake Ontario.
“We’re excited to be here, to kick off what next week will be a short, kind of a small-scale joint training exercise,” said Lt. Col. Scott Brenton, operations group commander, 174th Fighter Wing. “We want to focus on collaboration between different partners that all share some requirements in local areas.”
The program was the brainchild of Major Patrick Cox, joint terminal attack controller, the commander of the 274th Air Support Operations Squadron at Hancock Field (174th Fighter Wing), Brenton said, adding, “We are all training to save people’s lives.”
The New York Air National Guard, the US Coast Guard Station Oswego, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the New York Naval Militia will work together on Lake Ontario next week in an exercise testing the ability of small boat crews to work with Air Force ground controllers and MQ-9 (Reaper drone) remotely piloted aircraft, he continued.
The skills exercised can be used to find missing boaters or in maritime security missions.
Boaters on the lake may see some of this activity. It is unlikely the aircraft will be noticed by people on the ground.
“You probably won’t even see or hear the aircraft,” Brenton said.
The three-day drill (Monday to Wednesday) will test the ability of Air National Guard JTAC Airmen on board United States Coast Guard and New York Naval Militia vessels to work with the pilot and sensor operator controlling the MQ-9 Reaper drone.
The aircraft will fly from Fort Drum’s Wheeler Sack Army Airfield and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base and locate a target in Lake Ontario.
The exercise will develop the skills the Air Force teams need to operate in a maritime environment.
The exercise will give Coast Guard Station Oswego, Coast Guard Auxiliary and Naval Militia crews experience in working with Air Guard JTAC and air assets to accomplish a search and rescue mission or a security interdiction mission.
“One of the benefits of training in this environment is, down the road, we will all be able to fully understand how we can communicate, maybe on a moment’s notice if it’s required, that there is a vessel in distress out here on Lake Ontario,” Brenton said. “If we don’t capitalize on that, I think it’s an opportunity lost. The opportunity to save a life is something we want to participate in.”
For the exercise, the Coast Guard will use its 47-foot motor lifeboat, said Lt. Nathaniel Johnson, chief of maritime law enforcement for Oswego Coast Guard.
“This will be groundbreaking and will establish capabilities that could be really important in the future in any kind of emergency situation,” he said. “This presents a good opportunity to practice using Air Force and Air National Guard assets as a force multiplier for the Coast Guard in maritime search and rescue.”
“We going to test out quite a few things,” Major Cox said. “Our ability to actually do our federal job, our attack job on the water. It’s an unstable platform; it’s different than being on the ground. It’s definitely a very different and unique environment. It also gives us an opportunity with the Coast Guard to integrate on our state mission and one of the things we can provide is long-range communications and command and control.”
The MQ-9 will operate in the already existing military flight training area over eastern Lake Ontario.
The Coast Guard has a rescue dummy, in a big orange suit, that will be placed in the water. The aircraft will be used to help pinpoint its location and help the Coast Guard vessel get there and pick him up in a timely manner.
“We think it will significantly decrease the amount of time that it takes for Coast Guard crews to respond to a distressed vessel on the lake,” the major noted.
The exercise is meant to increase communications between the partners to better integrate both air power and surface forces, so in the event of an emergency on the water, “we aren’t scrambling to establish communication; we’ve already established the networks,” he said.
Commander Don McKnight of the NYS Naval Militia said the exercise is interesting in that it brings together three types of military forces.
The exercise will just be during the daytime. Once the different partners get used to each others methods and capabilities, it could be expanded to a night exercise, Brenton said.
“This will be the first time we’ve used Reapers with any maritime unit. It’s unique,” Major Cox said. “Our biggest challenge will be coordinating radio communication. It’s going to be a learning experience.”