Air Force completes test of combat support innovation

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Tech. Sgt. Steven Wilson, 4th Logistics Readiness Squadron air transportation craftsman, performs hot-pit refueling of an F-15E during the Combat Support Wing capstone, May 9, 2019, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The CSW provides multifunctional training for Airmen to rapidly deploy in smaller, more efficient and agile teams, effectively creating a smaller footprint in dangerous or non-permissive areas. (Air Force photograph)

The Air Force completed the final test of an innovative warfighting concept May 12 that could be a game-changer for future adaptive-basing constructs.

The Combat Support Wing proof-of-concept capstone exercise developed by the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center and hosted by Air Combat Command’s 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., tested the ability of three teams of about 30 Airmen each to establish and operate an airfield in an austere environment. They had to defend the base and refuel and rearm F-15E’s using multifunctional skills they learned during training events over the past month.

“We’ve seen monumental improvements in the ability of our Airmen to do things outside of their normal career fields and the speed at which they’re able to refuel and rearm jets,” said Brig. Gen. Brian Bruckbauer, AFIMSC director of Expeditionary Support and Innovation. Bruckbauer’s directorate led the planning and execution of the exercise.

The concept supports National Defense Strategy priorities to evolve innovative operational concepts and enhance lethality in contested environments. If fielded, the CSW concept could give the Air Force the ability to rapidly deploy in smaller, more efficient and agile teams to austere and potentially contested areas. Under the multifunctional construct, weapons loaders could drive a refueling truck, security forces defenders could refuel a jet and avionics specialists could provide airfield security while also performing their primary duties.

Airmen from multiple Air Force specialty codes perform a hot-pit refuel on an F-15E during the Combat Support Wing capstone May 9, 2019, at Kinston Regional Jetport, N.C. A hot-pit is a term used to describe a jet being refueled on the ground while the engines are running. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kenneth Boyton)

CSW is an outcome of the 2017 AFIMSC Installation and Mission Support Weapons and Tactics Conference. The capstone was the final event in a phased rollout of the concept over the past year. It tested the hub-and-spoke operations of a single forward operating base at Seymour Johnson and three forward operating locations at Kinston, Moody AFB, Georgia, and MacDill AFB, Florida.

“We had at least 15 different Air Force Specialty Codes come in to attack the problem of how to conduct integrated combat turns with as few people and the smallest logistics footprint as possible,” said Col. Erik Rundquist, commander of AFIMSC Detachment 8 at Langley AFB, Va., who was one of the primary architects responsible for turning the concept into practicable exercise scenarios.

Master Sgt. Jason Knepper, an Air Force Security Forces Center flight chief, joined the CSW cadre in January as a security forces functional lead. He said he’s seen “tons” of progress since capstone participants began training in mid-April.

“We went from individual troops who had their skillset and a vague understanding about what everyone else was doing to now where you’ve got maintainers manning defensive fighting positions and cops helping refuel jets,” Knepper said. “The construct for the multifunction approach is working really well. The people who built those pieces did a phenomenal job and now we’re seeing it work.”

Airman 1st Class Damien Riley, 4th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosives and Ordnance Disposal apprentice, conducts a hot-pit refuel on an F-15E during the Combat Support Wing capstone May 9, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. After several weeks of training on refueling, aircraft maintenance, security and more, 110 Airmen from 15 different bases separated into three teams to put their newly found skills to the test. (Air Force photograph)

He said Airmen can execute the concept very well when given the opportunity, training and motivation to see why it’s important. One of those Airmen was Senior Airman Darian Betancourt, an aircraft armament systems specialist at the 4th Fighter Wing. He learned how to drive R-11 fuel trucks, palletize cargo, conduct tactical combat casualty care and defend the base.

“It’s been different. It’s been fun too,” Betancourt said. “You gain appreciation for your job and other people’s jobs and you learn what they do.”

He said the experience was eye-opening.

“There’s so much to the Air Force that people don’t get to see and doing something like this really shows that,” Betancourt said. “If everybody could do this (multifunctional learning), that would be something special.”

The AFIMSC Expeditionary Support Directorate will now produce a report for Air Force leaders that includes data on more than 100 measures of effectiveness.

Senior Airman Darian Betancourt, 4th Fighter Wing aircraft armament systems specialist, observes the airfield perimeter from a defensive fighting position May 9, 2019, at Kinston Regional Jetport, N.C. If fielded, CSW could give the Air Force the ability to rapidly deploy in smaller, more efficient and agile teams to non-permissive areas. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kenneth Boyton)

“We’ll be able to provide our senior leaders with a very thorough analysis and some very good recommendations going forward on force structure, force presentation and multi-functional training with the goal of using this concept in our operational plans,” Bruckbauer said.

The CSW concept will be included in the Rapid Forge exercise taking place July 10-26 in Europe.
 

Airmen learn the components of an R-11 refueling truck during Combat Support Wing training April 16, 2019, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. Airmen who are not fuels specialists learned how to operate the truck and refuel F-15E’s. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kenneth Boyton)