MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- Pilots and crew from several 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing squadrons, including Cherry Point’s Marine Attack Squadron 223, conducted a live-fire air-to-air missile exercise off the coast of Virginia Aug. 7. During the exercise a naval aviator with the squadron fired one AIM-120A advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, engaging and destroying an ADM-141 tactical air launched decoy.
The exercise was a first among East Coast Marine attack squadrons. VMA-223’s naval aviators fly the AV-8B Harrier, which is designed to support Marine ground operations with precision air-to-surface attack capabilities. The air-to-air missile exercise highlighted VMA-223’s multifaceted role in support of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
“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 the squadron. “However, 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.”
The exercise, which took a month of planning and coordination between VMA-223 and several other 2nd MAW and Navy squadrons, was designed to help the squadron prepare for possible future operations in support of II Marine Expeditionary Force or Special Purpose MAGTFs, according to Forman, a 2009 U.S. Naval Academy graduate from Newhall, Calif.
“VMA-223 is primarily an attack squadron tasked to prosecute targets on the ground. However, all Marine units seek self-reliance to the maximum extent practical. Refining our air-to-air capability allows us to better support Marines on the ground by ensuring air superiority,” said Forman.
Harrier squadrons from across the Marine Corps have deployed routinely in support of MAGTF operations aboard Navy vessels and in the skies of Iraq and Afghanistan since overseas contingency operations began in 2001. While AV-8B pilots and ground crews usually train to maximize their interoperability with ground elements of the MAGTF, squadrons must continue to hone their skills for possible air-to-air engagements as the Marine Corps continues to shift its focus from land-locked contingencies to sea-to-land force projection, according to Lt. Col. Roger T. McDuffie, the squadron’s commanding officer.
“VMA-223 performs four of the six Marine Corps air functions, more than any other platform in the wing,” said McDuffie. “AV-8Bs perform anti-aircraft warfare, offensive air-support, electronic warfare and armed reconnaissance.”
A primary mission of the AV-8B and Harrier squadrons is to provide sea-based air support for Marines across the globe. The AIM-120A exercise is an example of just one weapon VMA-223 can bring to a fight, according to McDuffie, a native of Tamaqua, Pa.
“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 MAGTF’s overall capabilities,” said McDuffie. “Live-fire training better simulates a combat environment and enables us to better train like we will fight.”