Airmen display combat capabilities

USAF: 2nd Lt. Stephanie Strine Col. James Slife, 27th Special Operations Group commander, watches an aerial demonstration for around 600 spectators at the 27th SOW Capabilities Exercise.

By Airman 1st Class Jette Carr: 27th SOW Public Affairs

The second annual 27th Special Operations Wing Capabilities Exercise (CAPEX), a demonstration of the wing’s many special operations aircraft and missions for Cannon airmen and their families, was held June 4 at Melrose Air Force Range. The CAPEX was organized by Capt. Clayton Schuety, 16th Special Operations Squadron, and it required much preparation to ensure it was safe and exciting for viewers.

Melrose Air Force Range has been an integral part of Cannon Air Force Base since the early 1950s. Its 60,010 acres are used by many military units for training purposes. “The range is home to approximately 105 targets, which include trucks, planes, and tanks,” said Capt. Carson Heier, event narrator, 3rd Special Operations Squadron. “Target arrays are laid out to provide a realistic view of typical ground targets, including an airfield and battlefield.”

This setup made Melrose Air Force Range an ideal place to hold the CAPEX. The scenario played out for the crown was a direct action mission: a short-duration strike taken to seize, destroy, capture, or recover in denied areas, said Heier.

“This year the event was held closer to the Jockey impact area, whereas last year the event was held on the mesa,” said Schuety. “Last year, the mesa provided a superior view of the range and personnel on the ground. However, it didn’t afford viewers the ability to view the live fire profile from the AC-130H Spectre Gunship.”

Catherine O’Bannon, spouse of Staff Sgt. Robert O’Bannon, a deployed sensor operator with the 16th Special Operations Squadron, said that being able to watch the gunship shooting was her favorite element of CAPEX.

“Last year they didn’t shoot and it was really cool to be able to see it this time,” she said.

The squadrons providing air support for this scenario were the 16th Special Operations Squadron’s AC-130H Spectre Gunship. The 73rd Special Operations Squadron’s MC-130W Dragon Spear, the 318th Special Operations Squadron’s M-28 Skytruck and Pilatus PC-12, as well as the 524th Special Operations Squadron’s Dornier Do-328. Ground forces were from an Operational Detachment Alpha team from the 5th Special Forces Group, Fort Campbell, Ky. The simulated enemy was played by Cannon’s Opposition Force (OPFOR), 27th Special Operations Support Squadron.

OPFOR makes training at Melrose Air Force Range more realistic. “We give the gunships and wombats something to look at, something to aim at,” said John Saucier. “Any team that would need realistic bad guys for a training exercise uses OPFOR, just like these Special Forces guys who are parachuting in today. They’ll be coming in looking for a high value target, which we play.”

The 27th SOW has many aircraft that each provide a unique combat capability in supporting U.S. interests worldwide. Often these aircraft are used in conjunction with joint forces from other branches of the military, as was demonstrated during the CAPEX. Each squadron displayed their role in a combat environment, and the scenario included a simulated air-drop, calls for fire, parachuting, and evasive flying maneuvers.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better day to hold the event,” said Schuety. “The winds were fairly light and allowed all events to go off. There were some minor delays due to radio communication, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. It actually allowed the viewers to see our flexibility.”

In future capabilities exercises Schuety hopes to utilize the second AC-130H live-fire area, Spirit, he said. It is much closer to the mesa than Jockey and would allow viewers to see more of the action.