KUNSAN, Republic of Korea - The Yellow Jackets of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 138 participated in Max Thunder, a bilateral aerial training exercise for U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) military aircrews and maintainers, Nov. 14-21 at Kunsan Air Base, Korea.
The purpose of exercise Max Thunder is to enhance combat readiness of the U.S. and ROK air forces and supporting forces through combined and joint training.
The Yellow Jackets bring suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) capabilities, also known as radar jamming, to the exercise utilizing EA-18G Growler aircraft.
"When it comes to suppressing an enemy's air defense, I want to know how to best protect our counterparts," said Cmdr. Doug Graber, commanding officer of VAQ-138. "The more VAQ-138 learns about how our counterparts operate, the more we can protect them. It's complicated, but the more we train together the more interoperable we become."
Participation in Max Thunder provides the aircrew and maintainers of VAQ-138 with a valuable training opportunity that only forward-deployed squadrons can experience.
"I'm happy that we can be part of the Navy's plans to operate forward and rebalance to the Pacific," said Graber. "To me, it's always a meaningful exercise when we not only get to prove ourselves in several mission areas, but also find ways to improve capabilities. There are some things you'll never learn until it's time to pick up, move, settle in somewhere new, and start launching jets."
Exercise Max Thunder allows the U.S. and ROK militaries to become familiar with tactical capabilities through mission planning and aerial maneuvers. Through bilateral exercises like Max Thunder, each nation learns critical tactics that allow aircraft to operate together when it really matters.
"Being in an environment like this makes you grow because we are working with the different air forces," said Graber. "We have to learn the different services' jargon, operational norms, and tactics. This is very important for achieving our combined readiness."
Also deployed to the Korean peninsula is the U.S. Marine Corps Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, Pacific (FASTPAC) Detachment 6 Platoon from Yokosuka, Japan. This specialty security team brings an added layer of security to the high-tech squadron.
"We specialize in fixed site security," said Capt. Sean Dixon, officer in charge of FASTPAC Detachment 6 Platoon. "We come here to reinforce security of naval assets like the EA-18G Growler and the equipment VAQ-138 brings. We also regulate who comes around the technology."
"The Marine FASTPAC team solves a lot of our problems," said Graber. "They are able to pick up and deploy with us, and they do a great job of protecting our jets and crew."
VAQ-138 is currently on a routine deployment in support of 7th Fleet. The expeditionary squadron is forward deployed from Misawa, Japan, and is homeported at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Washington.
Exercise Max Thunder is part of a continuous exercise program to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces and is not tied to any real-world or specific threats. These exercises highlight the longstanding military partnership, commitment, and enduring friendship between the two nations, help ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.