TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - KC-10 Extender aircrews from the 6th and 9th Air Refueling Squadrons here played a pivotal role July 13, in successfully executing exercise Ultimate Reach, a strategic refueling and air drop mission in support of exercise Talisman Saber 2017.
Talisman Saber is a biennial exercise in Australia that focuses on bilateral military training between U.S. Pacific Command forces and the Australian Defence Force to improve combat readiness and interoperability between coalition partners, maximize combined training opportunities and conduct maritime prepositioning and logistics operations in the Pacific.
The air drop is one of several operations intended to highlight the interoperability of U.S. and Australian forces as well as the ability to project power in the region. In order to complete it, a joint partnership of aircraft from four different locations and three different time zones met at exactly the right place and time mid-air to conduct air refueling.
The refueling enabled five C-17 Globemaster IIIs carrying coalition troops to travel from Alaska to Australia in a single flight to conduct the primary mission of Ultimate Reach: a joint forcible entry exercise, or strategic air drop, of more than 300 U.S., Australian and Canadian paratroopers into Australia.
"This is what the KC-10 was made to do," said Lt. Col. Stew Welch, 9th ARS commander, and the Ultimate Reach tanker mission commander. "Getting a large package of C-17s with their Army payload from one continent to another is not going to happen without air refueling. This is the bread and butter of what we do in the KC-10 world and it is a privilege to do it."
To execute Ultimate Reach, the formation of C-17s carrying the paratroopers took off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, to be refueled first by KC-135 Stratotankers operating from Eielson AFB, Alaska. As they continued over the Pacific, one KC-10 from Travis AFB and two from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, were forward deployed to Wake Island, a small atoll in the western Pacific Ocean. They joined a fourth JBMDL KC-10 on its way from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, to meet the C-17s mid-flight and refuel each aircraft in quick succession.
"As an improvement from the last exercise, we were able to shorten the C-17s' flight time because we were forward deployed here to Wake," said Welch. "That's part of the tanker mentality of doing what we need to do and go where we need to go to support the mission. Today, the mission was getting those troops on the ground."
In total, the tankers offloaded over 700,000 pounds of gas, with KC-10s offloading over 400,000 pounds.
KC-10s were able to provide force extending refueling to the C-17s, said Maj. Pete Mallow, 6th ARS pilot, and the Ultimate Reach exercise director.
"We were able to provide the capability to the C-17s that other platforms can't because we can carry so much gas," he said. "With the strategic airdrop, we're trying to reassure our coalition partners as well as potential adversaries that we can put boots on the ground in 24 hours anywhere in the world."
The complexity of the mission highlighted the U.S.-Australian partnership as well as the seamless working relationship between joint forces, said Welch.
"It doesn't matter what base we're from or what patches we wear, everybody works together, and we get it done," he said. "We do this every day over the desert, and we should demonstrate that we can do it in a number of different areas of responsibility. There's nobody that can reach the kind of places we can reach with our partnership and with our air mobility assets."
In addition to Ultimate Reach, Talisman Saber includes live and virtual multi-domain training exercises on the sea, air, land and cyber platforms. Each exercise focuses on training a combined task force of U.S. and Australian forces in war fighting scenarios and command post drills. Over 33,000 U.S. and Australian personnel are participating in the exercise as well as other government agencies in each country.