MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- The Checkerboards of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 and the Hawks of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 are now both training in the desert sands of Arizona, but are focusing on different missions.
The Checkerboards, who will spend approximately three weeks in Yuma, are focusing on honing their air-to-ground capabilities, according to Capt. Mark Simpson, a pilot with VMFA-312.
“In mid-December, we began changing our focus from air-to-air tactics to air-to-ground,” Simpson said. “While in Yuma, we are able to use several different ranges and drop live ordnance, unlike in Beaufort.”
While in Yuma the squadron will practice delivering live missiles and bombs on target – and a lot of them.
“We are going to be dropping about 700,000 pounds (of ordnance) out there,” said Cpl. Roy Jensen, an ordnance technician for the Checkerboards. “Last time (the squadron) was in Yuma, we dropped about 200,000 pounds, so this time we are tripling the amount.”
In addition to dropping a substantial amount of live ordnance, the squadron will also employ new technology in five of the squadron’s 11 F/A-18 Hornets. The five aircraft will have a high resolution, forward looking infrared sensor, called a Litening Pod.
Although many Hornet squadrons in the Marine Corps already use the Litening Pod technology, the Checkerboards will be the first squadron to employ the pod mounted under a wing instead of under the center of the jet.
“With the (model) of aircraft the squadron flies, we are putting the Litening Pod in weapons station four instead of the centerline,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Gurecki, the communication-navigation staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “We will be the first squadron in the Corps with the pod in station four.”
The Litening Pod offers a host of capabilities, but one of the most popular features of the pod is that it allows the pilot to have a better view of the target as well as allowing ground units to see real-time video of what the pilot sees, according to Gurecki.
“A lot of pilots don’t have the opportunity to train with the Litening Pod until they get to combat,” Simpson said. “This gives the squadron a chance to use this in a training atmosphere.”
In order to drop almost three-quarters of a million pounds of ordnance and allow the squadron’s aircrew to build their comfort levels with the Litening Pod system, means the squadron will be ramped up and working at a very high operational tempo.
“Instead of flying 10 to 12 flights a day, five days a week like the squadron does here, we are going to fly 16 to 20 flights a day, six days a week,” Gurecki said. “The (operational tempo) will be high, but mission accomplishment comes first.”
“This will be a good change of pace from the Air Station,” Jensen said. “This will be good training for us all.”
Just like the Marines of VMFA-312, the Hawks will focus on air-to-ground missions. However, during their four weeks in Yuma, VMFA(AW)-533 will participate in a training evolution known as Mojave Viper.
During the exercise, the squadron’s jets will fly training missions from Yuma to Marine Corps Base Twenty-nine Palms to support 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment with close-air-support, according to Capt. David Forbell, a pilot with the Hawks.
“The two ground units we are supporting are on their way to Iraq,” Forbell said. “This training gives them a chance to see exactly what it will be like in Iraq.”
The squadron will drop more than 100,000 pounds of various pieces of ordnance such as laser guided bombs, general purpose bombs and cluster bombs, according to Forbell.
“Ordnance operations in Yuma will increase dramatically,” said Sgt. Michael Bickerton, an ordnance crew supervisor. “I think it’s important for (the squadron) to do these training exercises – especially for the junior Marines.”
With operational tempo high in Yuma, the squadron had to make sure the 10 jets they were taking to Arizona were ready before they left the Air Station. But this was not a big struggle thanks to the high standards of the squadron; the Hawks work hard to maintain their jets day-to-day, according to Bickerton.
“With the way the squadron keeps up with things, we really didn’t have to do any extra work to get prepared,” Bickerton said. “All we had to do was pack our bags.”
“Marines here are always working hard,” Forbell said. “I am always confident with the jet I’m going to fly.”