The U.S. Air Force is flexing its muscle in a dramatic show of force in response to increasingly alarming joint Russian and Chinese bomber patrol missions over the Pacific.
The Air Force’s 354th Fighter Wing and the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th Wing recently staged exercises at Eielson Air Force Base, located about 25 miles southeast of Fairbanks.
The formation — known in military parlance as an elephant walk — is meant to test the rapid readiness of every flying unit at the base, Air Force officials said.
“The elephant walk isn’t only to practice our abilities to respond quickly,” said Col. David Skalicky, operations group commander for the 354th Fighter Wing. “This is to show our airmen who work behind the scenes what Eielson (Air Force Base) is about. It’s about showing our strength in the Arctic arena.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, said Russia is making a concerted effort to control the Arctic.
“Russia has opened sixteen deep-water ports, fourteen airfields, built Arctic military bases and even formed a new northern Arctic command,” he said. “In recent months, Russian provocation has only increased. In fact, Vladimir Putin has referred to the northern sea route as the new Suez Canal, which he says Russia intends to fully control.”
The Air Force usage of “elephant walk” dates to World War II when large fleets of bombers would taxi down the runway in single file formation. Observers at the time said it looked like a herd of elephants walking to the next watering hole.
At Eielson Air Force Base, the “elephants” included 18 F-35a Lightning II stealth fighters, 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons and two KC-135 Stratotankers. The drill involves the long procession taxiing in close formation before taking off in a show of combat airpower.
“We proved what our team is capable of,” said Col. David Berkland, commander of the 354th Fighter Wing. “Stay tuned, because our combat capability will continue to grow.”
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