The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force (USAF) partnered to complete first-of-a-kind exercises that incorporated Navy and USAF expertise and assets in December 2022. Jackpot Hooligan II – a maritime strike exercise, demonstrated the capability of an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and elements of Carrier Strike Group 10 to integrate and close the structure of attack to eliminate a target or ‘kill chain’ in an anti-surface warfare mission.

Jackpot Hooligan II, completed on Christmas Eve, was the culmination of more than a year of relationship and tactics, techniques and procedures, experimentation, analysis, and implementation at sea and ashore between units of the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and North Dakota Air National Guard (NDANG). The work completed by the Sailors and Airmen of Command Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic (CSFWL), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26, and the 178th Attack Squadron underscored the value of interpersonal relationships and the importance of collaborative, joint warfighting development at the tactical level for operational-level impact.

“Across the strike group, the mission of honing our warfighting capabilities and strengthening our national defense is a priority,” said Rear Adm. Dennis Velez, commander, CSG-10, George H.W. Bush CSG. “Joint warfare is key to maintaining a competitive advantage against our adversaries and ensuring we utilize the full range of capabilities across U.S. military in defense of America and our allies is how we remain ahead.”

This relationship between the Navy and Air Force began in the summer of 2021 when Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103 completed exercise Victory Hooligan with the USAF, NDANG, and North Dakota Army National Guard in Fargo, North Dakota.

“Working with Air Force and National Guard components in the early stages of the partnership was essential to developing a solid operational foundation,” said Cmdr. Jason “Fisheye” Papadopoulos, commanding officer of VFA-103. “The effort we put in early continues to pay dividends as we foster joint relationships and defy technological warfighting expectations.”

In early 2022, VFA-103, CVW-7, NDANG, and Command Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic (CSFWL), MQ-9s began their first-ever detachment at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia. At that time, the squadrons of CVW-7 were also completing pre-deployment training in advance of a regularly scheduled deployment that began on Aug. 10, 2022 embarked aboard USS George H.W. Bush as part of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group.

The detachment at NAS Oceana further highlighted the abilities of the MQ-9 to compliment CVW-7 in multiple maritime domain mission areas. Realizing the untapped capabilities of the MQ-9 available to CVW-7 as the result of their work, the next step was development of innovative tactics and at sea testing.

To further the effort, NDANG 1st Lt. Mitchell “Twig” Mazaheri, MQ-9 Liaison Officer (LNO), embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) during the ship and Carrier Strike Group’s pre-deployment certification exercise, – a Composite Training Unit Exercise – in the late spring and summer of 2022, with the intention to refine tactics and to prepare for operational testing. It was the first time an MQ-9 liaison officer integrated with a carrier strike group at sea.

“One major takeaway from the MQ-1/9 community’s mission during the Global War on Terror was the significance of face-to-face integration with the soldiers, Marines, and Sailors on the ground prior to their deployments,” said Mazaheri. “The relationships that were formed as a result allowed for a more seamless integration process throughout their deployments. Now as we transition to peer and near-peer threat, the importance of utilizing the processes we built over the past 20 years is even more essential and the maritime domain is an area where we bring target value.”

In addition to building relationships in an increasingly joint environment, proving the MQ-9s ability to conduct maritime strikes is a competitive advantage for Carrier Strike Groups and their warfare commanders.

“This is the type of professional teamwork and technological integration that allows Carrier Air Wing 7 to deliver decisive combat victories in defense of the strike group and its allies,” said Capt. Thomas Bodine, commander, CVW-7. “The importance of collaboration across the Department of Defense and the proper application of all assets to achieve mission success cannot be overstated.”

During exercise Jackpot Hooligan I – a synthetic training exercise that preceded Jackpot Hooligan II – personnel from across the strike group, partner branches, and multiple warfare commanders within the strike group, were able to integrate and learn from each other’s expertise – collectively increased their capability while limiting risk to personnel and assets

“The ability to work as a cohesive team is paramount to the success of the U.S. military,” said Mazahari. “The relationships and knowledge each party brought to the table helped create paths for improvement for our respective communities moving forward.”

The experience gained from the repeat integration of VFA-103, CVW-7, CSG-10, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26 and the MQ-9 community enabled smooth integration during exercise Jackpot Hooligan II.

“As the air wing’s dedicated strike asset, F/A-18s can easily integrate with the MQ-9 and increase our overall capabilities,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brandon “Meatwad” Allgood, assistant operations officer for VFA-103. “In coordination with the MQ-9s, the F/A-18s were able to quickly and accurately conduct their strike, mitigating any potential collateral damage in the process.”

The past, present, and future exercises between joint forces strengthen the tactical capabilities necessary for the U.S. to fulfill strategic priorities at home and abroad. For CSG-10, employment of the MQ-9 adds critical combat capabilities to the strike group’s air and maritime strike arsenal, enabling it to better carry out its mission in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations.

The George H.W. Bush CSG is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet to defend U.S., allied, and partner interests.

George H.W. Bush is the flagship of CSG-10, George H.W. Bush CSG. CSG-10 is comprised of George H.W. Bush, CVW-7, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26, the Information Warfare Commander, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).

The ships of DESRON-26 within CSG-10 are the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Nitze (DDG 94), USS Farragut (DDG 99), USS Truxtun (DDG 103), and USS Delbert D. Black (DDG 119).

The squadrons of CVW-7 embarked aboard the George H.W. Bush are the “Sidewinders” of VFA-86, the “Jolly Rogers” of VFA-103, the “Nighthawks” of VFA-136, the “Pukin Dogs” of VFA-143, the “Bluetails” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121, the “Patriots” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140, the “Nightdippers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 5, and the “Grandmasters” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 46.

For over 80 years, NAVEUR-NAVAF has forged strategic relationships with allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability.

Headquartered in Naples, Italy, NAVEUR-NAVAF operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.