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Northern Edge 2021 gathers 240 aircraft, six warships for huge drill in Alaska

USS Theodore Roosevelt at exercise Northern Edge
USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Gulf of Alaska after participating in exercise Northern Edge 2019. Photo: US Navy

The US Indo-Pacific Command has welcomed approximately 15,000 service members, six US Navy ships and 240 aircraft for Northern Edge 2021 (NE21), a joint field training exercise May 3-14 from various locations in and around Alaska.

Major US Navy units that will take part include the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and Carrier Air Wing 11 (CVW-11), and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The US Army will be represented by the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, JBER, and 17th Field Artillery Brigade, JBLM.

US Air Force units will include the 3rd Expeditionary Air and Space Task Force, JBER, and the 53rd Wing, Eglin AFB, Florida.

The exercise is designed to provide high-end, realistic war fighter training, develop and improve joint interoperability, and enhance the combat readiness of participating forces. This is done by providing a venue for large force employment training and multi-domain operations and tactical training for the full spectrum of conflict.

Northern Edge will be the first major exercise for the air force’s new F-15EX Eagle II fighter, which was delivered to the service earlier this year.

NE21 locations will include Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Eielson Air Force Base, Allen Army Airfield, King Salmon, Cold Bay, Fairbanks International Airport, Ted Stevens International Airport, Juneau International Airport, Alaska; and Fairchild AFB and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington.

“We need events that allow the joint force to come together in a large venue to train alongside each other,” said Lt. Col. Mike Boyer, Pacific Air Forces NE21 lead planner. “Typically, training happens within your units, within your services, but you never really get the volume or the complexity you would expect to see in a modern day conflict. Northern Edge allows the joint force to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in the big picture and allows our younger generation within the armed forces to experience what future conflict could feel like in the complexities associated with it.”

The largest military training exercise scheduled in Alaska this year will test advanced F-35 tactics with new software, B-52 long-range hypersonic kill chain integration, MQ-9 auto-take-off and landing and high-end fight capabilities, and U-2 communication gateway testing. Fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft integration will also be a key objective, and the 53rd Wing expects to discover and validate new battlefield synergies from F-15EX/F-35 integration.