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55th Wing strengthens Agile Combat Employment capabilities

OFFUT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --

The 55th Wing recently deployed an RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft to a simulated forward operating base at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, as part of Operation Agile Warhawk, an exercise designed to test the wing’s Agile Combat Employment capabilities.

The ACE concept has been in practice across the Air Force since 2019 and is designed to project combat air power that relies less on traditional overseas bases and more on launching, recovering and maintaining aircraft from dispersed forward operating locations in cooperation with allies and partners. The concept is to be totally unpredictable and prove that Air Force assets can operate in a variety of locales without a substantial footprint.

“The initial concept is to spread out our forces and then use what’s called the hub and spoke concept - going from those hubs to a place that’s not necessarily a base, operating out of that, and then coming back.” said Maj. Ian Yellin, 55th Wing Plans and Programs officer.

As part of Operation Agile Warhawk, the wing executed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance training sorties while using the Multi-Capable Airman concept in various scenarios. The MCA concept cross-utilizes Airmen to accomplish tasks outside of their Air Force specialty code that would be required in austere locations with minimal airlift support. This might include aircraft security, communications or even basic aircraft maintenance.

“I worked alongside 55 AMXS maintenance personnel and they taught me some things about the jet like refueling, LOX [liquid oxygen], [and] cockpit controls. I was also involved with security forces exercises,” said Senior Airman Anna Dykes, a financial analysis technician from the 55th Comptroller Squadron. “This was also my first time ever flying on a military jet, so I learned a lot.”

Developing more capable Airmen, such as Dykes, was one of the major focuses of the exercise.

“As much as you prepare and plan for war, it’s almost guaranteed that you will not have everything you need when you deploy down range,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Hejl, deputy 55th Wing Inspector General. “We need to be flexible and dynamic in how we operate in future conflicts.”

The IG office found many valuable takeaways from the wing’s first ACE exercise.

“We assessed our current operations while also exploring ways we can drive agility going forward,” Hejl said. “That might include anything from implementing predictive maintenance to improve mission capability rates like commercial airlines do, to acquiring fly-away communications equipment that can easily be setup anywhere in the world.”

The initial 55th Wing Warhawk Reaction Force Concept of Operations Plan was signed in May 2021. The wing plans to expand on the lessons learned with a larger exercise and additional ISR aircraft in spring 2022.

"Our goal is to become the benchmark ISR platform within the ACE construct," said Maj. Patrick Tracy, Operation Agile Warhawk 21-01 detachment commander. "We cross combatant commands both geographically and functionally. It was time to further test other aspects of how we operate. ACE is already present in much of what the 55th Wing does, but we can always do it better. We are challenging our Airmen to drive change that increases our operational agility."