By Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve Public Affairs
The Navy Reserve’s Tactical Support Wing (TSW) is a powerhouse in providing support to U.S. Naval Air Forces in two highly-impactful ways. TSW’s operational squadron, the “Star Warriors” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 209, deploys overseas regularly, providing strategic deterrence as a force multiplier to the active component.
The wing’s four other squadrons, the “River Rattlers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 204, the “Fighting Omars” of Fighter Squadron Composite (VFC) 12, the “Sun Downers” of VFC-111, and the “Fighting Saints” of VFC-13 are professional adversary squadrons who take on the role of the enemy in training scenarios.
In February of this year, the two sides of TSW came together for a two-week, Air-to-Air Counter-Tactics (AACT) training for VAQ-209 with VFA-204 and VFC-111 providing adversary support, flying the legacy F/A-18 Hornet and the F-5 Tiger II, respectively.
“AACT training is designed to hone the skills of aviators to be prepared in case they need to execute defensive air-to-air tactics in a combat situation while conducting their primary mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kearbey Robinson, tactical aircraft (TACAIR) program manager for Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve. “AACT proficiency enables aircrew to effectively engage and defeat the adversary in a contested near-peer, air-to-air environment, allowing them to continue their mission and ensure Navy and Air Force strikers are able to reach their targets and return safely.”
Like all TSW adversary squadrons, VFA-204 and VFC-111 have a great depth of experience in fighter aviation, and all aviators are specifically trained to deliver threat-realistic aircraft, aircrew and tactics via a rigorous and thorough adversary syllabus. The training not only ensures combat readiness for combat crews but also highlights the critical component of Navy Reserve adversary support for both the active duty and Reserve components.
“The opportunity to work with our TSW sister squadrons was extremely valuable to our training,” said Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Mankins, one of the VAQ-209 electronic warfare officers who took part in the training. “Being able to train with TSW adversary squadrons, who are unmatched Navy wide in tactical qualifications, aggregate flight hours and overall instructional experience, is something we don't take for granted. As the U.S. military's only Reserve airborne electronic attack squadron, our ability to rapidly mobilize and deploy in any contingency depends on the quality of the training we receive, and the product our TSW sister squadrons provide is invaluable to our combat readiness.”
Together, with VFA-204 and VFC-111, VAQ-209 conducted offensive, defensive and high-aspect “dog fighting” scenarios, learning more about how to fight their aircraft and employ their weapons should they meet a live bandit at the merge in combat. Not only did 17 Star Warrior aircrew complete training and readiness requirements in two short weeks in Key West, but four Growler Weapons & Tactics Program aircrew upgrade events were completed during the 43-sortie detachment.
In those two weeks, VFA-204 and VFC-111 concurrently supported multiple training events for the “Gladiators” of VFA-106, the NAS Oceana-based Super Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), and completed more than eight adversary training syllabus flights for their aircrew over 46 sorties.
Throughout all this, TSW maintenance professionals performed at a superior level while maintaining compliance with COVID-19 restriction and supporting the three squadrons through the completion of 174 sorties and more than 241 flight hours in just two weeks.
The performance of all TSW personnel throughout the training demonstrated the strength the Reserve component brings to the Navy. By providing critical adversary and advanced training support, as well as providing highly-trained and experienced operational aviators to amplify strategic deterrence abroad, TSW makes a significant contribution to increasing the lethality of our Naval Air Forces.
“Yet again, Team Star Warrior and all of TSW showed how the Navy Reserve can rapidly move to a new location, set up operations, and professionally execute,” said VAQ-209 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Dustin Engel. “Our great depth of experience, embodied in our senior Sailors and aircrew, can only be found in the Reserve and serves as a force multiplier. I couldn’t be prouder of our team and how VAQ-209 and all TSW squadrons exemplify the ‘Keep Winning’ ethos of Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve.”
Commander, Naval Air Force Reserve mans, trains and equips the Naval Air Force Reserve in order to provide enduring operational support and strategic depth to Naval forces that win in combat.