Checkerboards assist first east coast Harrier AIM120 shoot

15 Aug 2014 | Cpl. Sarah Cherry

Pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 Checkerboards from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort took to the skies in support of Marine Attack Squadron 223, August 7.

VMA-223 conducted the first AIM-120 missile exercise for the Harrier platform across the east coast.

Checkerboard pilots assisted by dropping ADM-141 tactical air-launched decoys for the Harriers to target.

“It gives us a chance to cross train with our brothers-in-arms on the Harrier side of the house,” said Cpl. Kevin “Bigcat” Gibson, an aircraft ordnance technician for VMFA-312 from the Bronx in New York City.

An F-18 is capable of carrying up to six TALDs during one flight. In combat, the missile-like characteristics of a TALD help overwhelm and confuse enemy defenses.

“Attack pilots frequently train to and will always remain proficient in air-to-ground combat,” said Capt. Matthew C. Forman, a Harrier pilot and a current operations officer with VMA-223. “By working air-to-air flights into our training plans, we increase our confidence in the jet, enhance our ability to make quick decisions and increase our overall capability as an attack squadron.”

TALDs were effectively used during Operation Desert Storm to force Iraqis to reveal their location through radar.

In training, the TALDs mimic an aircraft like the F-18 on radar, presenting as a target.

“Training events like this one are important to improve multi-platform capabilities,” said Chief Warrant

Officer 2 Dan Collinson, aviation ordnance officer for VMFA-312 and native of Miami and Toledo, Ohio.

“We are able to assist other squadrons in successfully completing training they would be incapable of without our platform capabilities.”

The essential aviation support provided by Marine Corps pilots would not be possible without extensive training and cooperation between squadrons and services.

“The ability for the Marine Corps to self-escort assault aircraft into hostile territories to support missions like non-combatant evacuation operations or embassy reinforcement from expeditionary vessels strengthens the [Marine Ground Task Force’s] overall capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Roger T. McDuffie, the squadron’s commanding officer. “Live-fire training better simulates a combat environment and enables us to better train like we will fight.”