Military Aviation

Indonesia F-16 Fighting Falcons and U.S. F/A-18 Hornets have completed the first joint “all-fighters” exercise between the two countries

This year’s edition of Cope West was quite unique because was focused on fighter operations

As told by Cpl. Aaron Henson in the article PACIFIC AIR FORCES, US MARINE CORPS CONCLUDE EXERCISE COPE WEST 17 the F/A-18D Hornets belonging to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA[AW]) 225 “Vikings” concluded exercise Cope West 17 at Sam Ratulangi International Airport, Indonesia, on Nov. 11, 2016.

Conducted for the very first time in 1989, Cope West is normally focused on airlift, air-land and air drop delivery operation techniques. This year’s edition of the exercise was quite unique because was focused on fighter operations.

The drill was sponsored by Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and was conducted by the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and Indonesian Air Force (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara, TNI-AU) to enhance the readiness of combined interoperability between the two nations.

“The exercise offers an opportunity to advance interoperability between the U.S. military and Indonesian Air Forces, allows for the exchange of techniques related to this training specific to U.S. and Indonesian aircraft, and promotes regional stability through cooperation, improved mutual understanding and enhancing already strong partnerships,” explained U.S. Air Force (USAF) Col. Christopher K. Faurot, Cope West 17 exercise liaison and PACAF Director Air National Guard Forces. “These activities enhance relations between the United States and Indonesia while providing valuable training.”

Noteworthy when PACAF could not support the Indonesian’s request, they reached out to the U.S. Navy and USMC for support. PACAF and Marine Forces Pacific (MARFORPAC) were able to achieve a joint solution for this bilateral exercise because of their existing good relationship.

The Marine Corps was eager to execute this historic exercise and was able to provide enough personnel and equipment to support the first fighter-focused training iteration between the U.S. and Indonesia in 19 years.

“PACAF reached out to MARFORPAC for assistance when late-breaking changes in the exercise plan left them with no USAF fighter units available to support Cope West 17,” said Faurot. “The ‘cope series’ exercises are normally Air Force bilateral engagements with regional partners, and this year’s exercise marks the first time a ‘joint’ solution was utilized to meet partner nations’ desires.”

The squadron completed their unit air-to-air training requirements, which focused on basic fighter maneuvering (BFM), section engaged maneuvering, offensive anti-air warfare and active air defense versus the TNI-AU fighters to increase situational readiness, interoperability, knowledge and partnership between the U.S. and Indonesia.

“The Marines of Cope West came from all over the Pacific,” pointed out U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stephen N. McClune, commanding officer of VMFA(AW) 225. “VMFA(AW) 225 came from California and is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni currently as part of a Unit Deployment Program. We also have units that came from Okinawa and Iwakuni such as Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, who helped set up M-31 Expeditionary Arresting Gear and provided logistics and camp commandant type duties. We also had Marine Air Control Squadron 4 Detachment B and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, which helped with ground support equipment and supplies to keep our aircraft flying.”

Both the U.S. F/A-18D Hornets and Indonesian F-16 Fighting Falcons bring unique capabilities affording the associated nations the opportunity to learn and understand each other’s skills, preparing them for real world contingencies and further strengthening their relationship.

“The Indonesian pilots were very friendly and took us in right away,” said McClune. “With fighter pilots, there is always the initial natural distrust but over time we developed a very warm relationship. They invited us to dinner where we had a great time and sang some karaoke. Likewise, they were our guests at our Marine Corps Birthday cake-cutting ceremony.”

The combined training offered by Cope West 17 helps prepare the USMC and TNI-AU to work together in promoting a peaceful Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It also allows the services to practice air-to-air training, which enhances their ability to respond to contingencies throughout the region.

Photo credit: Cpl. Aaron Henson / U.S. Marine Corps and Capt. I Gede Ngurah Satrya Wibawa / Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU)

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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