EAST GRANBY, Conn. -- As the U.S. Air Force rethinks what will be required to establish and maintain air dominance in an increasingly-complex global environment, 103rd Airlift Wing tacticians are playing a major part in developing the tactics, techniques and procedures that bring together unique C-130H capabilities with the emerging needs of the Combat Air Force.
The 103rd Airlift Wing recently joined the Missouri Air National Guard’s 139th Airlift Wing and Air Combat Command’s 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. for the first Agile Combat Employment Exercise that integrated operations of the C-130H and the F-22 Raptor, a fifth-generation fighter aircraft
“The intent of this is operating in a contested environment where we don’t have established bases and infrastructure,” said Maj. Doug Ferro, 118th Airlift Squadron director of operations and C-130H pilot.
The U.S. Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment concept calls for collaboration across major commands to design and implement processes where aircraft can be resupplied and launched from austere locations in large geographic regions, such as the Indo-Pacific, where access to established bases is limited.
The 103rd and 139th, both C-130H units representing Air Mobility Command, worked with the 1st Fighter Wing, an F-22 Raptor unit, in the first collaboration between legacy C-130s and fifth-generation fighter aircraft under the ACE model.
“In the scenario, we as mobility aircraft land, provide fuel, munitions, and maintenance support for combat aircraft,” said Ferro. “We re-generate those aircraft closer to the fight at an austere location, so they can get back into the fight quicker.”
The 103rd focused on the refuel operation while the 139th conducted the simulated munitions resupply.
In this “crawl phase” exercise, Ferro, Tech. Sgt. Trent Zanow, 118th Airlift Squadron flight engineer, and Master Sgt. Khaleef Graham, 118th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, helped develop a process checklist from a rough draft provided by Air Mobility Command.
“The idea behind the exercise was to identify the questions or the problems we might not necessarily think about before we actually try it operationally,” said Ferro.
Zanow was prior-qualified in forward area refueling point operations, or FARP, in his time with the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing HC-130s. This refueling process is unique to Air Force Special Operations Command, and the 106th helped 103rd crews practice their new refueling process leading up to the exercise.
The 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels section played a vital role in the exercise as well, with Tech. Sgt. Henry DiGiovanni and Staff Sgt. Jose Hernandez becoming the first Air Mobility Command fuels team certified for this particular ACE refuel process.
Ferro credited wing and AMC leadership for their support of this innovative exercise.
“They basically asked the field to help them implement the solution,” said Ferro. “With the products they gave us, they asked us to tell them how to make it better.”
Airmen being empowered to find the solutions helps lay the foundation for the type of innovative thinking that may be required in a real-world scenario, said Ferro.
“This whole concept is predicated on minimal reach back to command and control,” said Ferro. “If it were happening for real and things are going wrong, we most likely will not be able to call back and ask how to solve the problem, we might just have to figure it out with the personnel on the ground.”
Ferro also credited the expertise of his 139th Airlift Wing counterpart, Maj. James Pate, in the exercise. Pate previously flew the F-22 Raptor and currently flies the C-130H, which brought a unique perspective into the scenario, said Ferro.
The 103rd plans to stay involved in the development of the C-130H Agile Combat Employment model, said Lt. Col. Joshua Linden, 118th Airlift Squadron navigator.
“The ‘walking’ iteration is going through the scenario at some semi-austere location where a fuel truck might not be there and you have to bring a bladder or aircraft bulk fuel distribution system,” said Linden. “The ‘running’ phase is where you bring everything into the scenario, and everybody has engines running.”
By helping to spearhead this Agile Combat Employment model, the 103rd has helped demonstrate the vital role of the C-130H and its unique tactical airlift capabilities in future operations, said Ferro.
“I think the H model is highly capable in this scenario—it has the ability to operate in an austere location with more degraded systems and we can self-heal,” said Ferro. We have flight engineers and crew chiefs who can fix some of the things that might go wrong on the airplane in an austere location, which will allow us, and our Combat Air Force teammates, to continue operations.”