EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- From March 6-9, 2023, the 354th Fighter Wing successfully executed Arctic Gold 23-1, a large-scale mobilization exercise designed to practice the Wing’s ability to rapidly deploy fifth-generation combat airpower from Eielson AFB.
“A major advancement we made with this generation exercise was the execution of the Agile Combat Employment (ACE) Concept of Employment for an air expeditionary wing deployment,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jennifer Cook, 354th Fighter Wing Inspector General superintendent. “We need to be timely, mobile, and proactive with how we deploy and employ our forces. It’s exercises like this that help us maximize our resiliency and survivability in real-world scenarios.”
The wing’s ACE cell brings representatives from each unit to integrate capabilities that would exist at their deployed location and adjust their personnel and cargo footprint accordingly. This plan was used to shape deployment processes and requirements throughout the exercise.
Agile Combat Employment is a key operating concept for how the U.S. Air Force will fly and fight in a modern, contested environment. Under this model, a central hub is established at a forward operating location, from which smaller airbases, or spokes, are established at dispersed locations to enable maximum flexibility for airpower employment.
“Deploying an AEW is incredibly complex,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Jack Johnston, 354th Fighter Wing ACE director. “It’s a larger movement in terms of personnel and equipment, but what’s really challenging is that an AEW requires personnel from across the fighter wing to operate. Often these personnel and their equipment haven’t deployed as part of the ACE construct, so AG 23-1 was a great step forward for the wing.
“What made this even more challenging was that we essentially mission planned the entire deployment in a matter of only a few days. This was a gargantuan task, and it really stressed communication and established processes. The result was more people understand what it takes to deploy airpower in this environment, and that education is critical to mission success,” Johnston added.
Although AG 23-1 was focused solely on getting the team to the hub, future exercises will focus on refining ACE operations from a hub and multiple spoke airfields.
“Being prepared to mobilize is something units focus on every day,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Layton Graves, 354th Fighter Wing installation deployment officer. “Ensuring personnel are prepared and know deployment procedures helps expedite the processing time when exercises or real-world scenarios occur.”
Exercises such as AG 23-1 refine the readiness and resilience of the wing, contributing to the ability of U.S. Pacific Air Forces to fight and win if needed.
“Thanks to everyone for working hard, including the families that supported our Airmen through long hours and increased ops tempo. The support of our families is a critical enabler for the Wing’s combat capability,” said U.S. Air Force Col. David Berkland, 354th Fighter Wing Commander. “During exercises, you’re either winning or you’re learning, and we did a lot of both this week.
“Everyone who participated in the exercise is documenting their lessons learned and applying them at the unit level. This ensures the 354th Fighter Wing continues to be ready to fight tonight and support our allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” Berkland added.