NEWS | May 10, 2021

Agile Combat Employment: A Light, Lean and Fast Air Force

By Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor 18th Wing Public Affairs /

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- U.S. service members from the 18th Wing, as well as Airmen from Misawa and Yokota worked in conjunction with Marines during an Agile Combat Employment (ACE) exercise at Kadena Air Base, Japan, the week of May 3, 2021.

During the three-day event multiple units such as the 18th Wing Petroleum, Oil and Lubricant Flight, the 44th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Ghost Flight and the Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 participated in implementing and testing several different ACE concepts.

The exercise focused on the overall effectiveness of the refueling process for Kadena’s F-15C Eagle and Misawa’s F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and allowed for incorporation and interoperability between the Air Force and Marine Corps – increasing efficiency for both organizations.

As the largest U.S. installation in the Asia-Pacific region, the Wing is continuously looking for opportunities to accelerate change and work toward being a more progressive and capable force.

“We have to accelerate change or lose … our adversaries are, so we have to. We have to change the way we do business and how we think about it,” said Senior Master Sgt. Frank Uecker, superintendent of the 18th Wing ACE office. This is a different theater – a different approach.

An essential part of said changes can be seen in the introduction of progressive fueling exercises – a key aspect of the ACE event.

The integrated combat turnarounds and hot pit refueling processes performed during the exercise allow for refueling while the aircraft engine is running, enabling the aircraft to return to flight as quickly as possible – both of which are essential to generating airpower, explained Master Sgt. Tyler Pillmore, section chief of the 18th Wing ACE Office.

While these concepts are critical to the mission, the role of the service member is just as significant.

Multicapable Airmen from the 44th AMU Ghost Team were responsible for quickly setting up a forward operating station, used for personnel lodging and communicating with aircraft. During the exercise these Airmen conducted a site survey and selection, assembled tents, and installed air conditioners, generators and communication systems, Uecker explained.

While Airmen played a significant part in the event, the support of the Marines providing the Helicopter Expedient Refueling System equipment was just as crucial to the mission and the projection of air superiority.

“What we did was brought the Maintenance Group, Airmen from the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron and the Marines together to utilize the HERS equipment,” Pillmore said. “It allows us to take a 20,000 gallon bladder and issue fuel to the aircraft that come down.

The cross-service teamwork required for the three-day event empowered the participants to build their relationship enabling them to be as expeditionary as possible, he explained.

Uecker views the ACE concept as both exciting and as a major cultural shift within the Air Force and how wars are fought – a necessary change in his opinion.

According to Pillmore, the ACE exercise was exactly what was needed for Airmen and Marines to be successfully integrate with one another.

“Everyone has learned not only what to do and what not to do … we’ve run into a lot of really awesome training experiences for everyone,” he said. “We were able to overcome all of those issues. It’s perfect; it’s exactly what we needed for not only the Airmen but the Marines too, to see and know what to expect when we get in the field.”