Northern Lightning training exercise returns to Volk Field in Wisconsin

A tactical aircraft maintenance technician from the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard, marshals in an F-16 Fighting Falcon after a flight to Volk Field Air National Guard Base in support of the 2020 Northern Lighting Exercise.


By CHRISTOPHER JARDINE | WiscNews | Published: August 13, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Volk Field near Camp Douglas is again hosting the Northern Lightning training exercise for military personnel around the country, as squadrons from California, Idaho, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin head to the base to participate.

Juneau and surrounding counties can expect to see heavier aircraft activity than usual from Aug. 10-21 during the exercise. Sonic booms are also expected. The base is hosting about 50 aircraft and about 1,000 people from active duty Air Force, National Guard, Navy and the Army.

“Northern Lightning is a tactical level, joint training exercise replicating today’s air battle space with current and future weapons platforms,” said Capt. Joe Trovato of the Wisconsin National Guard.

Participating in the exercise are advanced aircraft from each of the branches of the military, including the F-35 fighter jets stationed at Madison’s Truax Field. Wisconsin’s Air National Guard 15th Fighter Wing recently upgraded to the F-35 jet, replacing the aging F-16.

“We are excited to continue conducting our annual Northern Lightning exercise at Volk Field,” said Col. Bart Van Roo, the exercise director. “This exercise will focus on offensive counter-air with simulated surface-to-air attacks, and the integration of multiple air platforms. Training in this manner is essential for readiness and enhancing partnerships.”

Held twice a year in 2018 and 2019, Northern Lightning has returned to an annual exercise in 2020. The exercise began in the 2000s before growing into a large-scale training program with units from around the country in 2015. Last year’s May version of the exercise had “350 sorties flown, 400 bombs dropped, and approximately 3,000 ground control tasks were executed at Volk Field, Hardwood Range and Fort McCoy,” according to Vaughn Larson of the Department of Military Affairs.

The exercise is continuing this year despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though military officials say they have implemented changes to reduce the risk to those participating.

“We’ve had to make some adjustments due to COVID,” Van Roo said. “Though we still have more than 50 aircraft and approximately 1,000 personnel participating, far fewer will be staging out of Volk Field in order to mitigate public health risks. Even amid a pandemic the Air National Guard and our active-duty partners stand ready to complete whatever mission our country asks of us.”

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F-16s from the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard, will fly to and return from Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wis., daily for the next two weeks in support of Northern Lightning.