31 FW, 48 FW & 100 ARW ACE’d AK23-6

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stephanie Longoria
  • 31st Fighter Wing

They all exercised their ability to rapidly deploy and sustain operations at two forward operational locations, while maintaining command and control procedures and enhancing logistics with NATO Allies in the Baltic Region.

“We were able to move metal and people quickly around the world and established continuous combat operations while projecting American Air Power on an extremely quick timeline,” said Capt. Quincy “Shoc” Watts, 510th Fighter Squadron F-16 instructor pilot. “Over the course of the last week, we had the opportunity to take a highly motivated tight knit team from Aviano to two bases that were completely unknown to us.”

“We were able to adapt and overcome well, although we experienced challenges throughout the exercise,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Raatz, 510th FGS dedicated crew chief. “We did a good job of packing up and getting the jets to both locations.”

The multinational live-fly field training exercise corroborated new ways to deploy and maneuver assets into contested environments during a conflict, and integrate 4th and 5th generation aircraft.

“The team worked hard, and we got to try out ACE in a new and unique way that is more realistic to a wartime scenario. We created our game plan and solved logistical problems with little to no support while ensuring missions could be executed immediately upon arrival,” said Watts.

Simultaneously similar operations took place in the Arctic Region, with Airmen, F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th ARW, deploying to Finland and forward deploying to Sweden.

When U.S. Air Forces in Europe operationalize ACE, they demonstrate the ability to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support while ensuring Airmen and aircrews are postured to respond across the spectrum of conflict.

“It was pretty cool to be part of the first ACE exercise of this magnitude,” said Raatz. I think our team did well for the first exercise of its kind.

Watts said he was most impressed with how the Buzzard Maintenance Team was turning jets and teaching Airmen from various career fields how to execute launch and recoveries while continuously doing their daily inspections on F-16s.

“Having Multi-Capable Airmen in the field will be a tremendous help regarding continuous combat operations,” said Watts.

Multi-Capable Airmen are Airmen trained as a cross-functional team to provide support to ACE force elements. They are enabled to operate as a cross-utilization team in an expeditionary environment to accomplish mission objectives within acceptable levels of risk.

According to Watts and Raatz, the unknown was the biggest challenge during AK23-6.

“Not knowing what challenges that could and inevitably would pop-up was eye-opening. By putting ourselves into new situations with such uncertainties we gained a tremendous amount of confidence in these environments and will be able to pass lessons learned that are going to be extremely beneficial for us as a fighting force,” said Watts.

“The challenge of not knowing where we were going next, got us to think about what we need to bring to be better prepared in the future. ACE is designed for us to move very quickly with the minimal amount of people and equipment and although we were still able to launch jets there’s room for improvement,” said Raatz.

The U.S. Air Force regularly trains with Allies and Partners across Europe to ensure timely and coordinated responses during peacetime and contingency operations. Exercises like AK23-6 provide an opportunity for Allies and Partners to synchronize their responses and provide a unified front across the Alliance.

“Our most important lesson learned was that we need to continue to foster and grow our relationships with our NATO partners,” said Watts. “The resources, knowledge, and help they provide is invaluable and they can make or break operations. We have had amazing liaisons here in both Lithuania and Latvia.”