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U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 312, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), stage in a U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet after landing in preparation for distributed aviation operations (DAO) during Exercise Nordic Response 24 at Oulu, Finland, March 9, 2024. Exercise Nordic Response is an opportunity for the 2nd MAW to refine the DAO warfighting concept, which focuses on generating aviation combat power through the dispersion of aviation squadrons, command-and-control agencies, aviation logistics, and aviation ground-support units across the battlefield while integrating with allies and partners. Exercise Nordic Response 24 is designed to enhance military capabilities and allied cooperation in high-intensity warfighting scenarios under challenging arctic conditions, while providing U.S. Marines unique opportunities to train alongside NATO allies and partners. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher Hernandez)

Photo by Cpl. Christopher Hernandez

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing aircraft and personnel conduct distributed aviation operations in Finland during Exercise Nordic Response 24

21 Mar 2024 | 2nd Lt. Duncan Stoner 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets and personnel with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 312, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), exercised distributed aviation operations (DAO) during Exercise Nordic Response 24 in Oulu, Finland, March 8-11, 2024.

The DAO warfighting concept is the 2nd MAW’s method of operating within an adversary’s sensing and weapons-engagement zone. The concept enables the 2nd MAW to generate aviation combat power through the dispersion and coordinated employment of aviation squadrons, command-and-control agencies, aviation logistics, and aviation ground-support units while integrating closely with allies and partners across the battlespace. The 2nd MAW concept of DAO distributes command and control of aviation forces across echelons of command, pushing authorities to the lowest levels, while keeping forces moving between airfields and air sites.

Exercise Nordic Response 24, the largest exercise ever hosted by Norway, has been an opportunity for the 2nd MAW to refine the DAO warfighting concept by working with NATO allies and partners as they operate hand in hand across distances in Scandinavia and above the region’s adjacent waters.

“DAO is a great concept that 2nd MAW is pushing forward,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Matthew Andrews, the executive officer of VMFA-312. “We can put our aircraft with real firepower forward into multiple locations, making targeting really complicated for the enemy.”

A detachment from the squadron exercised the DAO warfighting concept after displacing to Oulu, Finland, from Andoya Air Force Base, Norway, with minimal aircraft crew and maintenance equipment. The detachment continued to successfully generate sorties in support of the exercise by integrating with Finnish air force personnel while in Finland.

“The whole reason that we do DAO, and the reason why Finland is great, is because they already have [F/A-18] Hornets,” said Matthews. “We can fall in on their infrastructure, on their equipment, and on their people and have them help us do maintenance on the jets. We can fall in on a lot of the infrastructure that already exists there.”

Throughout the exercise, VMFA-312 employed its F/A-18 Hornets in near-peer adversary training scenarios while conducting combined military air operations.

“We supported maritime strikes as well as defensive counter-air and offensive counter-air operations from this environment simultaneously with operations from Andoya, Norway,” explained Matthews.

As DAO hinges on the movement of aircraft to different locations to achieve dispersion across the battlefield, VMFA-312 overcame logistical challenges when displacing from Norway to Finland.

“It was really easy for us to move locations rather quickly within a couple of days’ notice,” said Matthews on the subject of moving the detachment. “Typically, when we move things around, it’s these huge movements with big airplanes and it takes a lot of time to set up. We did a really good job of moving in, packing light, moving quickly, moving to this new location, immediately being ready for operations."

While operating temporarily in Finland for the event, VMFA-312 had the opportunity to work closely with Finnish service members experienced in executing a concept similar to DAO.

“Finland does DAO very, very well. They've been doing it for years,” said Matthews when asked about his experience operating with the Finnish service members. “It's a great opportunity, and we spend a lot of time in Finland learning from them on how to do that and how we can rapidly move these aircraft around.”

The event in Finland was one of two DAO events that occurred during Exercise Nordic Response 24. The 2nd MAW also conducted DAO with four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 542 at Kallax Air Base in Lulea, Sweden, March 13, 2024. The event marked the first time a U.S. F-35 Lightning II jet aircraft landed in Sweden, the first time any F-35 operated at Kallax Air Base, and one of the first training events conducted by Sweden as a NATO member.

VMFA-312 exercising DAO in Oulu, Finland, and VMFA-542 exercising DAO in Lulea, Sweden, were not only examples of how the 2nd MAW can operate logistically with NATO allies and partners to support arctic operations, but also symbols of the exchange of tactics, interoperability between NATO countries, and the sharing of culture and traditions that occurred throughout Exercise Nordic Response 24.

2nd Marine Aircraft Wing