KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- U.S. Airmen from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, aboard a KC-46A Pegasus visited Kadena Air Base to enhance Agile Combat Employment (ACE) capabilities from Oct. 11-15, 2022.
Members from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing teamed up with the 18th Wing ACE office as well as members of the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS), 18th Communications Squadron, 18th Civil Engineer Squadron and the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron to check off some ACE training objectives and share tactics, techniques and procedures.
The ACE concept is centered around the ability to turn large operational level movements into smaller, tactical level initiatives, minimizing the reliance on prepared airfields by enabling the dispersal of smaller units to various locations while still meeting operational needs.
The primary focus of the visit was to establish a certified hot pit refueling site for the Pegasus here in the Keystone of the Pacific.
Hot pit refueling is a technique used to reduce the ground time between flights. After the aircraft lands, the aircrew keeps an engine running while fuel is delivered, reducing not only time and manpower, but also the equipment footprint, making it an ideal capability for ACE operations.
Earlier this year, Airmen from the 18th LRS conducted the very first hot refuel of a KC-135 Stratotanker in the Pacific area of responsibility. The next goal was to expand that support function to the more modern KC-46.
"Agile refueling is one of the main focus areas for both the Kadena and PACAF ACE teams," said Master Sgt. Timothy Wiseman, 18th Wing Agile Combat Employment operations superintendent. "In a contested environment commanders need options and by introducing these capabilities to our arsenal we are providing our Airmen the necessary training opportunities in a controlled main base environment, developing the skills and lessons learned that are vital to survivability when we are asked to generate Airpower from the ACE hub and spoke locations."
The next objective was to send a small footprint of Multi-Capable Airmen (MCA) with minimal equipment to set-up an expeditionary command and control (C2) outpost on Okuma and establish communication via high-frequency radio with the airborne Pegasus.
Wiseman explained during a real-world contingency, an attack could occur while the aircraft is airborne, destroying the runway at the aircraft’s departure point. The expeditionary C2 can be set-up in another location to establish communication with the aircraft, relay important information about the attack, and divert the aircraft to a secondary landing location.
This was the first time that the MCA set up a C2 in a non-academic environment, without training facilitators to assist them. While not all direct training objectives were met successfully, Wiseman explained that the Airmen walked away with some valuable lessons learned.
“Part of trying something new is accepting that in order to get to mission success, you will have to experience some failures along the way,” said Wiseman. “It’s important to get the practice reps in and develop that muscle memory so that when we experience a real-world contingency, we know we can execute as needed.”
The 22nd ARW Airmen also conducted an aircraft familiarization tour with members of the 909th Air Refueling Squadron and the 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, who were aboard the Pegasus executing simulated AE training while the C2 post was being set-up on the ground.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Milan Tandoc, 18th AES flight nurse, said most of the AES personnel here haven’t worked inside a KC-46, but typically operate from a KC-135. There are some notable differences between the aircraft, including more consistent climate control, a brightly lit cargo area and built-in litter stanchions for patients and electrical outlets for medical equipment.
Integrated training among units from different AOR’s allow an opportunity for Airmen to share best practices, strengthen agile force employment capabilities and enhance seamless integration to achieve a common mission.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Timothy Bulluck, 22nd Operations Support Squadron deputy chief of Agile Combat Employment, said learning to implement skill sets in different environments and navigating the challenges of those environments is an important aspect of the ACE model.
“Executing capabilities on the road can become tricky, and it is beneficial for our ACE team to be resilient and flexible,” said Bulluck.
The 18th Wing is dedicated to developing a force of multi-capable Airmen to drive the mission more effectively through the continued integration of ACE concepts.
"We are all in this together when it comes to developing ACE," said Wiseman. "This isn't a Kadena effort or a PACAF centric effort, every Airmen will be impacted by ACE operations. Working with Team McConnell to expand their ACE program maximizes our success rate in theater, preparing our Airmen to integrate and win under the ACE construct."