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Annual Northern Lightning exercise returns to the skies beginning Aug. 9

By Maj. Joe Trovato

Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center is hosting approximately 60 aircraft and nearly 1,000 personnel from the National Guard, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy as part of the annual Northern Lightning Counterland training exercise, which runs August 9-20.

Units from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin will all participate in the exercise.

Northern Lightning began in the early 2000s before expanding into a large-scale exercise in 2015. It became a biannual exercise in 2018 and 2019 and returned to an annual exercise in 2020.

Northern Lightning is a tactical-level, joint training exercise replicating today’s air battlespace with current and future weapons platforms. A variety of the world’s most advanced aircraft including fifth-generation aircraft like the F-35 will participate in the exercise.

Volk Field CRTC is one of the premier training installations and airspaces in the country, thanks to its expansive airspace and the quality of the training the installation can simulate.

Northern Lightning is one of seven Air National Guard joint accredited exercises held at a Combat Readiness Training Center, and the installation’s reputation as one of the country’s finest training areas continues to grow.

Likewise, Northern Lightning has grown into a world-class exercise.

“We are thrilled to once again host the annual Northern Lightning exercise at Volk Field,” said Lt. Col. Ben Staats, the exercise director. “Northern Lightning has evolved into one of the finest exercises in the nation, simulating offensive counter-air and surface-to-air attacks. Our goal is to provide a joint environment where units from multiple branches of the U.S. military can work together to accomplish training that is essential to their operational readiness.”

Pilots and aircrews participating in Northern Lightning can expect to operate in a contested environment with adversary aircraft, electronic jamming, and simulated surface-to-air threats, and such training is critical to building readiness for the threats and missions the nation faces.

The general public can expect to see an increase in aircraft activity in and around the Camp Douglas area and in the skies over Central Wisconsin August 9-20. The exercise will result in the possibility of some aircraft conducting supersonic travel at altitudes above 30,000 feet or while climbing in both the mornings and afternoons. Aircraft will generally fly beginning at 9:30 a.m. and concluding after 4 p.m. daily. Flight times are subject to change.

“We are grateful for the continued support and understanding of Central Wisconsin communities as we train to protect our nation and simulate combat conditions,” Staats said. “Northern Lightning Exercise tactical maneuvering includes the occasional requirement for supersonic travel within FAA and military guidelines. This means that people in the military operating area—a 55 by 200-mile area over Central Wisconsin—may hear sonic booms during daily flying hours.”

Those living in the following counties can anticipate increased military flight operations in the airspace: Adams, Brown, Calumet, Clark, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Jackson, Marathon, Marquette, Monroe, Outagamie, Portage, Sauk, Sheboygan, Trempealeau, Waupaca, Winnebago, and Wood.

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