Guardian Shield Operates Out Of Wallops
If you have heard and seen a lot of military aircraft these past couple days. It is just a joint exercise, Guardian Shield.
Every time I get to go to Wallops for a rocket launch or a tour, I can’t sleep the night before. It is just like a fishing trip, I’m just too excited anticipating the day to come. Wednesday’s trip was that and more. I’ve never been more excited, it was like my first time attending a rocket launch. No idea what to expect, giddy as a schools girl, and my inner nerd in overdrive. This trip I have Top Gun playing over and over in my head. Can we go for a ride?
Cameras packed, batteries charged, every kind of mask for the covid requirements, just in case. I prefer my fishing gators, but they may not be allowed. Snacks, because snacks. Make sure the truck is ready for a trip to drive onto a military base. More snacks, check the camera’s batteries again. Don’t forget the memory cards this time. A rushed trip to Walmart in a frenzy to find camera cards is no fun, mostly for the Walmart employees. Snacks, trying to keep my covid figure up to par.
I arrived at Wallops an hour early as planned, for once. I was hoping to catch some aircraft dropping into the base before we had to go to the badging building. There is a turn around in front of the visitors center. I parked and got on the roof of the truck. Decent view but you can’t see the tarmac. Little did I know I was looking at right where I would be standing in about an hour. I have 20 minutes to badging, and nothing has dropped in, I start the truck. Just as I am about to pull off two F-16s rock the sky out front. Side by side. I grab the camera peel off some quick shots and jump on the truck roof. Just as one banks hard, they are going to land. At the moment this is the highlight of my day, that is going to change real quick. The F-16’s drop onto the runway. I get some cool shots and video. Time to go and head to the base. I’m five minutes around the corner, so no worries.
We convoy to the base. Due to covid restrictions there isn’t a bus waiting to take the group. Kudos to Wallops for their covid screening process. The last thing we need is a Space-Covid The Movie at Wallops It is a small group of media and our NASA friends. My buddy Mike Givens from the band Monkey Paw made it this trip. We are going to have some fun today! We always have fun on these trips, I don’t think we will be near any abort buttons today. When we park I look in front of my truck and there is an F-16 parked about a hundred yards or more away. Oh boy!! Are they going to let us on the tarmac today?!?!? The inner nerd has just gone buck wild. Check the cameras, grab ALL the batteries and cards, skip the snacks! I ate most of them on the way down anyway.
We get the safety briefing. “We have to stand in that corner of the tarmac. Just stay in our little area. DO NOT move out of the red line area. The aircraft are live and running. We can’t get in the way”
Wait? We are getting up close and personal with these aircraft?
“ Oh you guys are going to get more than that, here are some earplugs, you’re going to need these. We might have to move when some of the planes start landing.”
Yyyaaaasssssssssssssssssssssss!!! My head explodes, I will have this goofy grin on for the rest of the day.
Everyone grabs their gear and heads out onto the tarmac. The Draken International company’s F-159’s are tarped and about to be “fired” up as soon as their ground crew clears the planes. The F-16 is sitting there for a reason we will be told about later. During this exercise the Wallops base happens to be the target and is being protected in this exercise. We find this out later. Let’s hear it for not using live fire.
“Draken International owns and operates the world’s largest commercial fleet of tactical ex-military aircraft and supports military training objectives around the globe.”
That sounds like one heck of a business. For this exercise, Guardian Shield, the Draken company planes’ roles are the targets or aggressors, and our boys need to “Shoot” them down. This is when we find out Wallops is the intended targets in this exercise. Pucker factor has increased.
“We use a contracted company for simulations and exercises so we aren’t using our aircraft for targets etc. It is more cost effective to use a contracted company than pitting an F-16 against another F-16
While the Draken crews fire up the f-159’s, which are really loud by the way when you are a hundred feet away. The first blast of an engine blows my hair in the opposite direction over my head All I can smell is spent jet fuel. The tarmac just went up twenty degrees. This. Is. Awesome! Like a personal airshow, but wait there’s more.
The F-16 flight crews are getting equipment ready, we have two birds inbound, they are coming in hot and light, the sky cracks from the sound.
The ground crews are here to train to reload and refuel an aircraft. This exercise not only simulates the air “battles” over the ocean in a forty thousand square mile area. The ground crews need to refuel and reload a plane in ample time to get them back into the “fight”. I equated it to a NASCAR crew. These folks move like a machine, as one automatous unit. Lieutenant Colonel Tom Kanewske was our exercise guide. Great guy who really knows his stuff and has a very interesting job. Not to mention he has one heck of a rap.
“We are coordinating with many different bases across the country and organizations for Guardian Shield. There are forty to fifty planes at any time in this exercise over a forty thousand square mile area. If it weren’t for this large area of exercise we wouldn’t be able to undertake such a massive amount of maneuvers. Wallops offers a unique opportunity with their facilities to allow our ground and air crews to coordinate and “practice”. He said all of that much more eloquently, and it sounded much cooler in person, these are my abridged versions.
One of my questions was is Guardian Shield strictly to intercept missiles (ICBM’s)? That was about all I could find on the Google about this exercise.
“Yes that is one of our functions as well as other protection capabilities and scenerios.”
Sooooo, I got to ask. Have you guys shot down any missiles?
“No we have not.”
Answered with zero hesitation … This is probably one of those I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you answers.
I completely forgot to ask about aliens and UFO’s, another missed opportunity. Next time maybe. I mean we are at NASA after all.
Lieutenant Colonel Tom Kanewske was a great “tour guide” for this exercise. He explained all the working parts of his crews and Guardian Shield that he was allowed to divulge as it were. After all this is a military operation, I’m just happy to be here.
“This team needs to and will reload and refuel this F-16 in under twelve minutes. The unique part of this exercise is Wallops is not a base we normally use or operate out of. So we have to bring everything we need with us and then some. (much like a MASH unit) The aircraft in front of you is being reloaded with “dummy” missiles to keep the crew fine tuned to reload an aircraft as if we were in a live fire situation. Normally they would work in tandem on the same aircraft. For this exercise we are using a separate craft to let the teams fine tune their work. Today they have managed to keep us in the air on time and we have been able to protect this target.”
Wait, which target?
“The target you are standing on right now, Wallops is part of the protection we are running in this exercise. We are and will be a target until Friday” He smiles slyly.
So we are the target today? Epic! I looked at Mike and asked if he had that abort button handy.
Watching and learning about how our military not only prepares, but trains was amazing. Even more so when you realize the scope of what they are up against in these modern times.
“Ever since the tragic events of nine eleven we have to come up with all kinds of scenarios to defend against. We are always looking into any and all possibilities. The hard part is thinking up the unthinkable to defend against. With the help of the staff at Wallops and NASA we have been able to use this facility to our advantage in many ways. Not just the technological end, but the “think tank” if you will. Putting many minds to work on unforeseeable events has been very encouraging. It has been amazing to be able to coordinate with all these different bases, and assess to allow us to create this massive exercise with precision and speed.”
Huge thanks to Wallops NASA and the crews for their tour and allowing us to be there if, even just briefly. It is hard to imagine what these folks have to deal with on a daily basis that we don’t even think about.