U.S., Japan spar in sky at Seikan exercise
March 11, 2003
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — All air wars should be like this: A one-day affair without casualties, punctuated by a renewed appreciation for the airmanship of your strongest ally.
In a nutshell, that summed up Seikan War, a bilateral exercise between American and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force pilots played out here last week.
It was planned as a two-day exercise, but Friday’s flying activities were canceled after snow moved into the Misawa area, dropping ceilings.
“Seikan War is a great opportunity to do large force employment between our Air Force and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force,” said Col. Jeff Stambaugh, 35th Fighter Wing operations group commander.
Approximately eight F-16CJs from Misawa’s 35th Fighter Wing flew in the exercise, along with 12 F-15J fighters, four F-4EJ Phantoms and one E-767 Airborne Early Warning aircraft belonging to JASDF units at Misawa and Hokkaido.
By pooling the resources of JASDF and the Air Force, “we get to fight a lot more airplanes than we get to fly with on a daily basis,” Stambaugh said.
Flying activities took place high over the Sea of Japan off the west coast of northern Honshu, where offensive and defensive counter-air maneuvers were employed.
“Offensive counter-air is sweeping the skies of aircraft, then bombing an airfield,” Stambaugh said. “Defensive operations is to protect the homeland, if you will.”
Bombings during the exercise were simulated.
Seikan War, first held in 1985, enhances the tactical skills and judgment of Japanese pilots, a senior Japanese officer said.
“We learned the operational concepts of the U.S. Air Force. They are the world leader of air power, and to build our bilateral operational capability,” said Col. Yuji Okamura, defense and operations division chief for the Northern Air Defense Force.
As part of an exchange program during the exercise, several Air Force pilots were given the opportunity to fly in the F-15J, while the Air Force reciprocated by allowing Japanese pilots some air time in the F-16.
Capt. David “Squawk” Sundluv, 29, of Fredonia, N.Y., a Misawa F-16 pilot, has more than 1,200 flight hours in the Fighting Falcon. Now, he has 90 minutes flying time in the F-15, too.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said of his back-seat sortie on Thursday. “It’s a great aircraft and a lot larger than the F-16; there’s more room in the back seat.”
During his sortie, piloted by Capt. Jun Ikeda of the 201st Squadron from Chitose Air Base on Hokkaido, Sundluv and three other F-15s defended an imaginary ship on the Sea of Japan.
“We used various manuevers and tactics to defend it against other airplanes coming down,” said Sundluv, the 35th Fighter Wing’s deputy weapons officer.
He said the performance between the twin-engine F-15 and single-engine F-16 is similar.
“Actually, the F-15 doesn’t have as powerful engines, and they weigh a little more, but it felt the same on takeoff,” he added.
The cockpit controls also offer a different feel.
“It’s more of a feel thing in the F-15, which doesn’t have electronic flight controls, compared to the F-16 that has a computerized fly-by-wire system,” Sundluv said.
Pilots flying the F-15 have movement associated with the “stick,” whereas the F-16’s stick is immobile, responding instead to pressure exerted by the pilot’s hand.
“It’s a fairly maneuverable aircraft,” Sundluv said of the F-15, “on the same par with the F-16.”
He said the F-16’s role includes air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, as well as suppression of enemy air defenses, while the F-15’s forte is primarily in the air-to-air arena.
“Their mission is very complex, and more specialized. The F-16 mission is broader,” he said.
Ikeda, 30, scheduled to fly in an F-16 during the exercise, said he wanted to learn tactics from those pilots.
“The U.S. Air Force has a strike mission. They fly both offensive and defensive tactics, and I’m excited to take part in this exercise,” said Ikeda, who has accumulated 280 hours of flight time in the F-15 during a seven-year JASDF career.
Sundluv said flying in Seikan War gave him a better appreciation for his Japanese allies.
“We both train so differently. When we train together, it’s a good way to get a feel for each other,” he said. “It’s a big step forward for all of us. We’ve never really trained like this before.”
Sundluv noted he wasn’t ready to make the transition to the twin-engine F-15 just yet. He retains a special fondness for the F-16.
“It’s like your first sports car,” he said. “You want to stick with it.”