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22 ARW leads the way in future operations with Exercise Lethal Pride

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tryphena Mayhugh
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing tested their skills in a simulated contested environment during the Agile Combat Employment exercise Lethal Pride March 27-31 at McConnell Air Force Base.

“Lethal Pride is a 22nd ARW directed exercise that tested the Wing’s ability to deploy command and control and mission generation elements to orchestrate combat effects across geographically dispersed forces,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Smith, 22nd Operations Support Squadron director of operations and lead planner for the exercise. “Our goal is to simulate conflict with a near-peer adversary and operate in a contested and degraded environment with winning outcomes.”

For the exercise, the Wing built a “Tent City” comprising of more than ten tents for over 100 Airmen to live in and work 24-hour operations in 12-hour shifts throughout the week. These Airmen were simulated as belonging to the 722nd Expeditionary Air Wing, which was organized under an A-Staff concept and led by Col. Jacob Thornburg, the 22nd ARW vice commander.

The mission for Airmen at Tent City was to launch, communicate with, and recover multiple aircraft across 3,000 miles of the continental U.S. and off the coast of Hawaii with limited or degraded communications.

“We are simulating heavily degraded communications,” Thornburg said. “As communications became degraded, our team had to recognize and then respond – essentially using our alternate communications and developing techniques and procedures on how best to communicate with the aircrews.” 

On the first day of the exercise, Team McConnell did an elephant walk of 21 aircraft, consisting of 16 KC-46 Pegasus and five KC-135 Stratotankers, followed by an aircraft flush where all of them took off in quick succession, setting an all-time McConnell record for number of aircraft launched in an exercise.

Two of the aircraft that left that morning were long endurance flight missions, one taking off and not landing again for 24 hours, while the other landed, but maintained a 24-hour duty day. Multiple aircrews were aboard each aircraft, working in shifts to complete their mission.

“One of the things we want to figure out is how do aircrews respond to endurance operations with increased disruptions and an austere living environment,” Thornburg said. “In the future, they may be potentially asked to stay aloft that long and [fly those distances] in warfare, and we want to see how the aircrew and aircraft respond.”

During the exercise the Wing also tested the viability of an alert crew living on an aircraft to rapidly take off should a mission suddenly require it. The 22nd Medical Group conducted a sleep study of the aircrew to see how well Airmen can rest while living on the jet. They also calculated the cost of power and fuel to keep the aircraft comfortable for the crew.

“We must adapt to future conflicts, and that starts at the tactical level,” Smith said. “McConnell Airmen have spent the past two decades focusing on the Global War on Terror. We must shift our focus to emerging threats and develop our tactics, techniques and procedures for a high-end conflict against a near-peer adversary.”

One focus of Lethal Pride was limited communications, and another way that was tested was the Airmen in Tent City were not allowed to bring their cellphones. The Wing provided an avenue of communication for families in case of an emergency, otherwise the Airmen were cut off from the outside world.

“The reason we’ve done that is so we can simulate when we actually have to do that in war time or conflict,” Thornburg said. “If you look in the media and see the articles on modern warfare, we know for a fact that forces can be located using cellphones. We want to eliminate that and get them used to not having cellphone technology at their fingertips.”

Tent City isn’t a commonly used concept for exercises, requiring a lot of coordination and planning. Capt. Cody Lokken, 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron readiness and emergency management flight commander, was the mayor of Tent City, ensuring the work centers had everything they needed logistically to operate, providing power and HVAC systems, and keeping morale high during the week.

“The biggest challenge with Tent City was making sure folks were comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Lokken said. “They didn’t have their cellphones, they were in an austere environment away from their family, just making sure they know why we were here and get the mission done.”

This exercise is a lead up to AMC’s large-scale Mobility Guardian exercise that will take place later this year across the Pacific involving multiple bases and units. It is the first step in ensuring McConnell Airmen are prepared to take on any conflict, against any adversary, at any time. The exercise also included players from McConnell’s Air Force Reserve 931st ARW and Office of Special Investigations, the 92nd ARW from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, the 375th Air Mobility Wing’s Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, and the 621st Contingency Response Squadron from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

“Lethal Pride is the largest base-level exercise that I’ve taken part of in my 16 years of active duty,” Smith said. “This exercise will physically and mentally prepare our Airmen for a new type of warfare and will ensure McConnell AFB remains at the forefront to deterring aggression and defending the nation.”