MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Predator is a two-weeklong exercise designed to test and prepare Marine All
Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 to be combat ready for future deployments.
The exercise spanned from Feb. 8 - 19 and included
four F/A-18 Hornets with VMFA(AW)-533 and various units across Marine Aircraft
Wing 29, MAG-14 and MAG-31. Also supporting was 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine
Regiment with 2nd Marine Division; as well as 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry
Regiment (U.S. Army); the 335th Fighter Squadron (U.S. Air Force); and civilian
contractors all training alongside and aiding in the pre-deployment training.
“We are all here contributing to VMFA-533 so they
can complete their Forward Air Controller Airborne qualifications and get their
readiness levels to a deployable status,” said retired Marine Corps Lt. Col.
Jeff Scott, director of Marine Corps operations with a civilian contracting
The exercise was completed in different phases,
explained Scott. One portion included the participants providing close air
support for the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Atlantic’s Fire Exercise.
“Our A-4 Skyhawk supported VMFA-533 by being a close
air support fixed-wing platform that they controlled,” explained Scott. “Utilizing
our aircraft instead of the squadron’s helped to relieve some of the burden so
they could focus the training on other components of their mission.”
One aircraft put into play during the exercise was
the Army’s OH-58 Kiowa, which added more variety to the combat simulations.
“We laid down suppressing fire with the Kiowa so our
medical evacuation asset could land in a simulated hot zone,” said Army Maj.
Margaret Stick, Kiowa pilot and operations officer for 1-17 Cav. “It was made
possible by having the joint terminal attack controllers on the ground identify
the potential landing site for the medical evacuation insertion.”
From the Army’s perspective, Coastal Predator
allowed soldiers to understand and practice the joint terminology and aided
integration for the Army into the collective operational picture, explained
“Anytime you are supporting someone or being
supported by someone, it is going to strengthen your bond,” said Maj. William
V. Backlund III, operations officer for VMFA-533. “It’s the way the Marine Corps operates. We
have the fixed-wing supporting the ground scheme maneuvers and vice versa.”
During Coastal Predator, an example of the Air
Combat Element and Ground Combat Element coming together was displayed in the
integration of the Hornet’s hot-loading procedure, explained Backlund.
Hot loading, aka hot rearming, is a reloading
procedure completed while the aircraft’s engine is still running, drastically
reducing the time to get back in the fight.
“Close Air Support, armed reconnaissance, and
Forward Air Controller Airborne, are just some of the mission sets we need to
utilize to be proficient as a squadron,” explained Backlund. “These are very
advanced skills that take many assets. Given the personnel participating in
Coastal Predator, it allowed additional active duty Marines to train and focus
on more mission critical tasks.”
In addition to conducting pre-deployment training
for VMFA(AW)-533, the exercise was designed to support EWTGLANT with close air
support for their tactical air control party fires exercise.