INYOKERN AIRFIELD, Calif. – In a demonstration of the versatility of the U.S. Marine Corps’ largest air wing, aviation ordnance Marines with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing All Type Model Series Armament Team conducted arming and loading ordnance operations at a forward arming and refueling point at Inyokern Airfield, California, during exercise Steel Knight 23.2, Dec. 2, 2023.
Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force have conducted exercise Steel Knight annually since the 1990’s. This was the first iteration during which the 3rd MAW ATAT conducted remote FARP operations, receiving both air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions from a CH-53E Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd MAW.
Aviation ordnance technicians are trained on the maintenance and repair of armament equipment and loading of aviation ordnance on Marine Corps aircraft. Most aviation ordnance technicians specialize in a single platform, but those with the 3rd MAW ATAT train to support every type model series aircraft in the 3rd MAW fleet. The Marines with the 3rd MAW ATAT originated as quality assurance safety observers and were selected from across the aircraft wing to join the ATAT. Each team member of the ATAT is cross-trained and qualified to load ordnance to each other’s platforms, increasing flexibility and lethality of the Marine Corps’ largest wing.
“The ATAT will minimize the number of Marines needed to support forward arming and refueling point operations, reducing multiple type model series load teams from 18 to as low as five,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dan Sallese, assistant aviation ordnance officer for 3rd MAW. “This supports concurrent multiple-site operations and provides enough qualifications to support every site while allowing Marines to stay back working at the squadron or flight line. This will allow us to project airpower forward.”
The ATAT members routinely train on fixed and rotary wing platforms to ensure each member is qualified and maintains proficiency. The 3rd MAW ATAT Marines have also conducted cross-training with the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base operating with Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-35A Lightning II aircraft. Ensuring the ATAT Marines are ready to service any aircraft from an austere location with a reduced footprint brings versatility and depth to the fight, providing flexibility to mission planning for future Combatant Commanders.
The team employed their expertise during Steel Knight 23.2. Steel Knight is a three-phase, combined-arms exercise designed to enhance existing live-fire and maneuver capabilities of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. The exercise is used to validate concepts, including ATAT employment, which increase I MEF’s ability to operate while disaggregated.
“The training consisted of transporting all-up-round munitions to and from Inyokern Airfield via assault support aircraft,” said Warrant Officer Peter Dunn, assistant aviation ordnance officer with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 3rd MAW. “The training will also require the ATAT to perform arming and loading ordnance operations of F-35 aircraft in an austere environment.”
As the aviation combat element of I Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd MAW executes expeditionary advanced base operations through the hub, spoke, and node concept, with varying levels of capability, survivability and sustainability based on mission requirements and geographic considerations. The addition of ATAT Marines to the hub, spoke, and node construct enables 3rd MAW to deliver combat power with speed, depth and agility whenever and wherever it is needed.
|INYOKERN, CA, US
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