An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

6th ARW accelerates change with ACE capstone exercise

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joshua Hastings
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

In the landscape of today’s warfighting capabilities across the globe, the U.S. Air Force has addressed the advancement of pacing threats and has enacted the initiative to accelerate change.

In response, the 6th Operations Group from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., conducted a capstone exercise from Joint Base Charleston, S.C. and Bangor, Maine, Aug. 23-26, incorporating Agile Combat Employment doctrine concepts.

The ACE concept underpins the Air Force’s ability to mitigate the risks of adversarial technological advances through maneuverability and speed to prevail in conflict. 

“When we started planning a year ago, I would have never imagined that things could have gone as well as they have,” said Air Force Col. Jonathan Burdick, 6th OG commander. “Here we are a year later, and we’ve turned imagination into reality. This is not the result of any one Airman or any one leader, but of a winning team that has come together to prove it can deliver air power anytime, anywhere.”

Contrary to previous combat employment models, an aspect of ACE is shifting operations from centralized forward bases to a network of smaller, highly flexible force presentations from dispersed locations providing theater commanders more options while mitigating adversary targeting plans.

The capstone exercise included 72-hours of continuous air refueling operations in a simulated contested environment focused on a notional theater of operations.

During the exercise, three to six KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft assigned to the 91st and 50th Air Refueling Squadrons were airborne at any given time and more than 50 aircraft were refueled. Additionally, several dispersed airfields across the eastern half of the U.S. served as maintenance and hot pit refueling hub locations.

 “The size and scope of this capstone were unprecedented,” said Burdick. “We proved we can deliver air power in mass on short notice, with a scaled back force footprint and in austere conditions. Not only did we demonstrate that we have a growing significant capability when it comes to ACE, but we also opened the door to learning about many areas we need to capitalize on to continue our trend of improvement.”

Maintenance Airmen assigned to the 6th Maintenance Group worked alongside aircrew members to provide rapid maintenance support as well as perform on-the-ground hot pit refueling operations to optimize the time in the air for the refueling tankers.

Both air refueling squadrons were tasked with organizing aircrew members in real-time to fulfill the requirements of the exercise’s air tasking order. Minimum personnel, resources and mission- type orders were provided to each unit to mimic the pressures of a combat environment.

“The exercise was designed to encompass all the training we have accomplished over the past year and to stress the force and aircraft in a manner to foster innovation and the operational capabilities necessary to prevail in future fights,” said Air Force Lt. Col. John Williams, 50th ARS commander. “One aspect we focused on was rethinking our force presentation to increase rapid deployment capabilities while ensuring we remained highly effective and survivable at the forward location.”

The combined effort of the wing and the joint force partners who provided aircraft for refueling and airfields for maintenance contributed toward the successful completion of the capstone exercise, which will now serve as a foundation for future ACE refueling operations.

To ensure that air refueling support is provided on a global footing, they have to be able to fly into more airfields, explained Burdick.

“To accomplish that, we have to synchronize with our maintenance partners, our logistics partners, our intel brothers and sisters, and with all the operators that are tied into this fighting force,” said Burdick. “At MacDill, we’ve brought all the stakeholders into a combined effort to make sure we can be effective with the smallest package possible, go anywhere we need to go and deliver air refueling support on a ready basis.”

After proving that 72-hours of continuous air refueling operations can be accomplished in a simulated contested theater, the 6th ARW has accelerated change by using ACE as a means to ensure combat success in any future conflicts.