Though he has more than 2,000 hours in the Hornet, Shipley was grateful for the opportunity to rack up more air time. “It’s as real as it can get without an AIM-9 actually coming off the rail,” he says. “I was excited. The guy I fought was actually pretty experienced. He was [call sign] Taro. We’re more experienced than [the Malaysian pilots], as we do a lot more practice. But Taro did a lot of out-of-plane maneuvering, not often seen from the Malaysian pilots. He was really good.” Shipley hopes to participate in a future Air Warrior.
“These exercises are tremendously valuable,” says retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, a global military strategist and author. “They strengthen alliances at both the political and practical levels, but they also allow us to identify and address a wide range of problems in interoperability, from fuel nozzle mismatches to radio incompatibilities—the sort of down-and-dirty details that can make a huge difference in a period of crisis. Human relationships remain critical in 21st century warfare, and these exercises do at least as much to build trust between individuals as they do to rehearse common flight procedures.”
The learning and bond-building will continue, but—starting this year—with new equipment: The Malaysians are replacing their MiG-29s with the newer, more advanced Sukhoi Su-30, a fighter/attack aircraft flown by a number of countries, including some with which the United States has had tense relations (China and Venezuela). While Malaysia is officially neutral, it certainly leans toward friendly these days—due in large measure to Air Warrior.
Writer and photographer Ed Darack wrote the book Victory Point (Berkley, 2009).