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Annual Northern Lightning exercise returns to Volk Field

By Capt. Joe Trovato | Wisconsin National Guard | Aug. 10, 2020

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CAMP DOUGLAS, Wis. — Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center is hosting approximately 50 aircraft and nearly 1,000 members of the National Guard, Air Force, Army, and Navy as part of the annual Northern Lightning Counterland training exercise.

Units from California, Idaho, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin will all participate in the exercise Aug. 10-21.

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.

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. The installation’s reputation as one of the country’s finest training areas continues to grow. Northern Lightning has grown into a world-class exercise.

“We are excited to continue conducting our annual Northern Lightning exercise at Volk Field,” said Col. Bart Van Roo, the exercise director. “This exercise will focus on offensive counter-air with simulated surface-to-air attacks and the integration of multiple air platforms. Training in this manner is essential for readiness and enhancing partnerships.”

Van Roo said the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated some changes to the exercise’s structure, but the training will be invaluable.

“We’ve had to make some adjustments due to COVID,” he said. “Though we still have more than 50 aircraft and approximately 1,000 personnel participating, far fewer will be staging out of Volk Field in order to mitigate public health risks. Even amid a pandemic, the Air National Guard and our active-duty partners stand ready to complete whatever mission our country asks of us.”

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. 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 during the exercise.

“This exercise will include potential supersonic travel, within FAA and military guidelines, so people in the military operating area, a 55-by-200- mile space, may hear sonic booms between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during weekdays,” Van Roo said. “We appreciate everyone’s patience as it is a necessary part of preparation for actual combat.”