WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. --- Training is underway for two Air Force pilots from the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron, a geographically separated unit of Mountain Home Air Force Base, working out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
1st Lts. Kevin Martin and Jonathan Wright will train to become the first electronic attack fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force.
"The opportunity for us to bring them in as brand-new pilots and train them in a weapons system that most everybody is unfamiliar with in the Air Force is a unique opportunity for us," said Capt. Chad Gagnon, 390th ECS electronic warfare officer. "Not only to bring pilots, train them and send them back to the Air Force, but to get a different perspective than what we're used to getting with weapons system officers from the B-1 and the F-15E. The fact that we have these pilots here now is a pretty big milestone for the program."
With the presence technology in warfare, the mission of the 390th Wild Boars has been to control the electromagnetic spectrum that radio and radar travel through, suppressing the enemy's ability to shoot at aircrafts.
In 2015, Air Combat Command and Command of Naval Air Forces agreed to bring fighter pilots to the joint airborne electronic attack program. Although Air Force pilots and weapons system officers have flown in the program previously, these are the first pilots flying EA-18G Growlers with air to air capability.
"One of the challenges for our pilots will be that they have only been learning how the Air Force does things for about two years, now they're going to spend three years learning how the Navy does things," said Lt. Col. Jeff Kassebaum, 390th ECS commander. "The other part of it is towards the end of their assignment here they're going to have to relearn how to fit back into their follow-on fighter squadron to remember how the Air Force does things because both are a little different."
Training will last roughly 40 weeks, after which the fighter pilots will continue their three years stationed here assigned to a Navy expeditionary EA-18G squadron.
"The advantage when you fly with the Navy but you're in an Air Force squadron is you get to see the positives and negatives in both services," Kassebaum said. "It gives you a very broad perspective of airpower."
Kassebaum's goal for the future is to eventually have at least one person who has gone through this program in every Air Force community who can serve as a local expert. All that begins now with this first pair of electronic attack fighter pilots, young officers who were given only 24 hours to decide to join this mission and fly a completely different aircraft than they had been preparing for.
"I just saw it as a really rare opportunity that is kind of a once in a career choice that was presented to me, so I jumped on it as soon as I could," said 1st Lt. Kevin Martin, 390th ECS EA-18G pilot. “I'm looking forward to the different exposure that I'm going to get here flying in the Air Force with the Navy.
Growing up as a lieutenant in an Air Force squadron at a Navy base brings a lot of different experiences, different exposure and a different mission as well."