Eielson Air Force Base is home to Cope Thunder, a realistic, 10-day air combat training exercise held up to four times a year.

Each Cope Thunder exercise is a multi-service, multi-platform coordinated, combat operations exercise and corresponds to the designed operational capability of participating units. In other words, exercises often involve several units whose military mission may differ significantly from that of other participating units. Cope Thunder planners take those factors into consideration when designing exercises so participants get the maximum training possible without being placed at an unfair advantage during simulated combat scenarios.

Cope Thunder participants are organized into “Red” defensive forces and “Blue” offensive forces. “White” forces represent the neutral controlling agency.

The defensive force includes ground-control intercept and surface air defense forces to simulate threats posed by potentially hostile nations. These forces generally employ defensive counter-air tactics directed by ground-control intercept sites. Range threat emitters — electronic devices which send out signals simulating anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile launches — provide valuable surface-to-air training and are operated by a civilian contractor as directed by 353th Combat Training Squadron technicians. The offensive force includes the full spectrum of U.S. and allied tactical and support units. Because the defensive and offensive forces meet in a simulated hostile, non-cooperative training environment, the job of controlling the mock war and ensuring safety falls to the White neutral force.

On an average, more than 700 people and up to 60 aircraft deploy to Eielson, and an additional 500 people and 40 aircraft deploy to Elmendorf Air Force Base, for each Cope Thunder exercise.

Most participating Cope Thunder units arrive a week prior to the actual exercise. During that time, aircrews may fly one or two range orientation flights, make physical and mental preparations, hone up on local flying restrictions, receive local safety and survival briefings, and work on developing orientation plans.

During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, aircrews are subjected to every conceivable combat threat. Scenarios are shaped to meet each exercise’s specific training objectives. All units are involved in the development of exercise training objectives. At the height of the exercise, up to 70 jet fighters can be operating in the same airspace at one time. Typically, Cope Thunder conducts two combat missions