CASPER, WY -- History was made during Exercise Agile Chariot as an MC-130J Commando II, an MQ-9 Reaper, two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and two MH-6 Little Birds landed on Highways 287 and 789 April 30 and May 2, 2023, respectively.
“The requirement here was clear: how do we get after Agile Combat Employment and hone the skills required to win a near-peer competitor fight,” said Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, AFSOC Commander. “This exercise is a great example of what happens when Air Commandos come together to solve problems and test what we will see in future fights.”
Exercise Agile Chariot was an Air Force Special Operations Command-led event focused on Agile Combat Employment and involving personnel and assets with the Total Force. During the exercise, participating units, in coordination with federal, state and local agencies, landed an MC-130J Commando II, an MQ-9 Reaper, and two A-10 Warthogs on Wyoming Highway 287, while conducting a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), Integrated Combat Turnarounds (ICT) and taking off from the highway.
“When you get the right people, at the right time, in the right place, you can accomplish impressive feats,” added Bauernfeind. “Agile Chariot accomplished major milestones for our AFSOC community—all of which lend credence to our pathfinding nature—including the first-ever landing of an MQ-9 on a highway, an MC-130J landing on a highway and simultaneously conducting FARP and ICTs with A-10s, and our special tactics Airmen establishing and securing a 30,000-foot usable runway on a public highway. "
According to Maj. Matt Waggy, Exercise Agile Chariot director and mission commander, landing an aircraft on a highway is not a novel idea as it’s been done before, but what the participants did with this exercise matters, particularly landing an MC-130J onto a remote highway and supplying munitions and fuel to assault aircraft without the need of large-footprint logistics or any line-hauled items via roadways.
“It’s a major step in the right direction and it provides a very usable arrow for our ACE quiver,” added Waggy. “Our Joint Force Commander can now look at these capabilities as very real options to solve real-world problems.”
The 15th Special Operations Squadron also landed an MC-130J Commando II with two MH-6 Little Birds onto Wyoming Highway 789, conducting a time-sensitive, personnel recovery mission with Airmen from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. Airmen with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron secured landing zones and operated the highways as usable runways during both of the exercise’s major events.
According to Lt. Col. Dave Meyer, Deputy Mission Commander for Exercise Agile Chariot, the exercise was unique because the aircraft landed on highways that were not purposely built for it.
“In [Agile Chariot], we used highways that weren't purposely built for landing aircraft. We determined that the roads were adequate to land a relatively large aircraft like a C-130 on it and be able to conduct operations,” said Meyer. “Not just land, but conducting Forward Arming and Refueling, turning the aircraft around, and maneuvering in a really confined space. So now, we’ve demonstrated that we don’t need runways in order to project power.”
In recent years, AFSOC and Total Force organizations have diligently trained ACE concepts. Examples include A-10s and C-146As landing on Michigan’s highway M-28, C-146As taking off and landing on Latvian highways, and the MC-130J landing on a highway in Sweden. Agile Chariot, however, was unprecedented in terms of its scope as more aircraft participated in highway landings than ever before.
“An adversary that may be able to deny use of a military base or an airfield, is going to have a nearly impossible time trying to defend every single linear mile of roads. It’s just too much territory for them to cover and that gives us access in places and areas that they can’t possibly defend,” Meyer said.
Exercise Agile Chariot tested the concept of Agile Combat Employment (ACE)—an operational scheme of maneuver executed within threat timelines to enhance survivability while generating combat power—through two demonstrations, as well as Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), Integrated Combat Turnarounds and the infiltration and exfiltration of Air Force Special Operations (AFSOC) personnel with US Army Special Ops Aviation Command (USASOAC).
Landing the MQ-9 Reaper on a highway has opened the door for future capabilities.
“The capabilities witnessed during Agile Chariot showcases how the MQ-9 can launch and recover from remote locations and extend its operational reach to protect American interests globally,” said Lt. Col. David Payne, 2 Special Operations Squadron commander. “As Reservists, we are helping transform for the future while simultaneously flying two persistent combat lines.”
The event offered an ideal venue to continue assessing the effectiveness for how the weapons system can be used in today’s changing landscape for combat operations.
“This is yet another demonstration of the vital role the MQ-9 is capable of performing for the Total Force,” said Lt. Col. Brian Flanigan, 2nd SOS director of operations. “One of the Reaper’s biggest assets is its versatility as it has the ability to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and close air support missions.
“The MQ-9 can now operate around the world via satellite launch and recovery without traditional launch and recovery landing sites and maintenance packages,” said Flanigan. “Agile Chariot showed once again the leash is off the MQ-9 as the mission transitions to global strategic competition. The depth of experience in the Air Force Reserve allows Citizen Airmen the ability to execute AFSOC’s mission any time, any where.”
The exercise also sought to operationalize ACE across four key areas: codifying repeatable and understandable processes; forces that are organized, trained and equipped appropriately; theaters postured with the necessary equipment, assets and host nation agreements; and joint service and partner nation integration/interoperability.
“Total Force training is an essential aspect of ensuring our military is always ready to respond to any crisis or situation that may arise,” said Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. “Exercises such as this one bring together the Active, Guard, and Reserve components of the military to train together, helping them to work seamlessly and effectively when called upon to serve.
The exercise was coordinated with various whole-of-government agencies in Wyoming and supported by both the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming National Guard. Agencies involved included the Federal Aviation Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Weather Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wyoming U.S. Forestry, Wind River Inter-Tribe Council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Wyoming has a strong military community with service members and families rooted through F.E. Warren Air Force Base, the Wyoming Army National Guard and the Wyoming Air National Guard,” added Gordon. “Our state is well-positioned to support Total Force training exercises.”
Participating units include the 1st Special Operations Wing from Hurlburt Field, Florida, flying MC-130J Commando IIs and leading Exercise Agile Chariot; the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, flying two A-10 Thunderbolts; the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, flying MH-6M Little Birds; the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron from Louisville International Airport, Kentucky, establishing and securing the landing zone and controlling the airspace; the 2nd Special Operations Squadron, 919th Special Operations Wing from Duke Field, Florida, landing the MQ-9 Reaper; and the 65th Special Operations Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Florida, controlling the take off and return flight for the unmanned aerial vehicle.
“As we looked for places to train, Wyoming jumped out at us,” said Col. Allison Black, 1st Special Operations Wing commander. “Our partnerships with the state allowed us to come here and execute our tactics, techniques and procedures that we couldn’t do otherwise and for that we are extremely grateful.”