95th Reconnaissance Squadron conduct Agile Combat Employment

  • Published
  • By Maj. Eric Nelson
  • 95th Reconnaissance Squadron

In 2019, U.S. Air Force combatant commanders were directed to come up with a solution implementing Agile Combat Employment throughout their respective theaters. For U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, this was codified through an order given by Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander, who directed all units to develop ACE initial operating capabilities by fiscal year 2022. At the 100th Air Refueling Wing at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, this became priority number one. As plans progressed and the 100th ARW began planning for the exercise,  they  invited the 95th Reconnaissance Squadron who is a tenant unit operating out of RAF Mildenhall in support of USAFE-driven mission directives. As luck would have it, the parent wing for the 95th RS, the 55th Wing, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, was also working towards the same goal as the 100th ARW. This exercise provided an opportunity for one of the 55th WG’s geographically separated units to lay the foundation for their own ACE initiative.

Beginning in April 2021, the initial planning meetings for ACE exercise High Life began. The 95th RS assigned Maj. Eric Nelson, assistant director of operations, to take lead, assign a team, and develop the first ever ACE plan for their reconnaissance aircraft, the RC-135W Rivet Joint. While the 100th ARW was concentrated on the operations of their fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, the 95th RS had a unique set of constraints to work with based on the sensitivity of their aircraft. As the planning began, Nelson and his team decided the overall thought process would be that the Rivet Joint needs to develop a plan that is as independent from external assistance as possible. This type of planning would allow the 95th RS to better employ in a new location with minimal pre-coordination. Over the next five months the ACE team continued planning everything that would be needed to conduct missions from a new location.

In September, after many months of planning, the time finally came to execute the base-wide ACE exercise High Life. The 95th RS, armed with a detailed plan and well-rehearsed team, set out to prove that they can pick up and operate out of a new location. The 95th RS sent Nelson and an advanced team to their new location the day prior to ensure all logistical aspects of the plan were in place to receive their aircraft the next day. On Monday, it began for the aircraft crew with the first-ever elephant walk for a RC-135 alongside the other RAF Mildenhall aircraft they projected their vigilance, reach, and power to the theater. From there, these aircraft launched out of RAF Mildenhall enroute to their temporary operating location, completing their respective missions along the way. By the end of the first day, the entire team had arrived at their new location and was ready to complete a week of operational missions while executing a plan months in the making.

During the week-long exercise, the 95th ACE team made up of 40 individuals, spanning 10 different Air Force Specialty Codes worked through numerous desired learning objectives and proofs of concepts all while continuing to execute the same operational missions they would complete out of RAF Mildenhall. The team handled the care and feeding of the crew as well as mission coordination and logistics. The maintenance members ensured that any issues involving the aircraft were handled while also refining their maintenance requirements for future ACE exercises. The aircrew performed mission planning and communications tests onboard their aircraft with the help of the remote mission planning team out of RAF Mildenhall. All of their efforts combined allowed for the entire team to execute a seemingly flawless exercise before heading back to home station at the end of the week. In all, exercise High Life a huge success for not only for Team Mildenhall, but also the 95th RS’s parenting, the 55th WG, who hopes to use the lessons learned to help implement ACE initiatives globally. This exercise would not have been possible without the invitation from the 100th ARW to join their efforts and all the help they provided along the way.