Fresno Air National Guard Base, Calif. --
UPDATE: This exercise was canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 194th Fighter Squadron Griffins from the 144th Fighter Wing are hosting the Valley Thunder training exercise Mar. 17-21, 2020 from the Fresno Air National Guard Base.
Valley Thunder is fighter jet training exercise, which will feature a unique war-fighting scenario, delivering a competitive experience for fighter pilots and units. F-15C Eagles from the 144th Fighter Wing and F-16 Vipers from the 8th Fighter Squadron, out of the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico will be participating.
Other airframes participating in this total force exercise include a C-130 from the 146th Airlift Wing based out of Channel Islands as well as tankers from multiple active duty units.
This training exercise will provide numerous advantages for all the pilots and units involved. Fresno serves as an ideal location for this training because it allows for a continuous operation with both water and land-based flying missions.
The simulated real-world training experience will provide a one-of-a-kind, competitive, consequence-based, and limited asset training experience. During the eight days of the war-fighting training scenario, each team will have a limited number of aircraft, pilots, munitions, and other support functions available.
The consequence-based aspect of the training will create effects such as reduced fuel availability, munitions availability, and jet availability, which will impact the effectiveness of future missions over the course of the exercise, requiring maximum flexibility and adaptation from the fighter units.
Each team will consist of both F-15s and F-16s. Two of the days will also include a C-130, which will act as a cargo transport that will need to be defended by its fighter jet team. These realistic training missions with dissimilar aircraft are what aviators would experience in a deployed environment, and they present a broader set of problems than are typically faced on normal day-to-day training.
Each flying day of training will feature two missions. During the morning mission, units will participate in the eight-day war fighting training scenario. Afternoon missions will also be conducted to meet regular pilot combat training requirements.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Skylar Bautista, 194th FS pilot and Valley thunder project officer, said, “The major difference in this exercise is that we are going to treat it as a real-world operation where there are consequences to your actions.”
The scenarios will be focusing on the war fighting training that will include carry over effects from each of the day’s previous missions.
“This is a permanent consequences exercise with a finite number of missiles, pilots, jets, and other resources,” added Bautista. “So if we launch with four jets and one is defeated, we only have three jets to work with for the next launch.”
The name of the exercise was submitted during a competition last month on the 144th Fighter Wing’s Facebook page, which received over 50 unique suggestions. “Valley Thunder” was finally chosen as the name for the training to represent pride for the Central Valley of California and the sound of freedom that is created every time the jets fly.