AATC leads joint ACE exercise to fulfill myriad training, testing objectives

The Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC), traditionally known for their innovation and cost-saving tactics, took on a much broader mission this week as the coordinator of a multi-faceted, joint agile combat employment exercise — Exercise KANI WILDCAT — that allowed for several testing events and integration with Air Force Special Warfare operators, A-10s, C-130s, F-22s, UH-1Ns, MV-22s, and CH-53s.

An Air force Combat Rescue Officer recovers his parachute after a freefall jump from an AATC C-130 as part of training during Exercise KANI WILDCAT. (Air Force photograph by Maj. Angela Walz)

The ACE concept aims to develop Airmen, who are adept in disciplines outside of their normal day-to-day duties. It also challenges the ability to establish a functioning forward operating base with minimal resources. Exercises like this contribute to the evolution of a force of multi-capable Airmen, aircrew, and an overall more agile military, improving mission readiness and increasing capabilities in less than optimal environments.

“Exercise KANI WILDCAT builds upon the military’s fundamental skillsets required to conduct our missions in contested and austere environments while meeting the needs of combatant commanders,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jason Halvorsen, AATC commander. “This exercise allows us to practice the ACE concept while still pursuing low-risk, low-cost, commercial-off-the-shelf modernization solutions.”

The exercise consisted of several training and testing objectives that, when combined, emulate an ACE mission. As part of the training to accomplish the mission at a forward operating base, AATC A-10s from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., traveled to Hawaii while an AATC C-130H from Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Ark., prepped to conduct a water airdrop event out of DM to Lake Roosevelt, Ariz.

At one point, the C-130 crews’ training was put on hold to transport A-10 maintenance personnel to assist with the speedy recovery of an A-10 that required maintenance work. When finished, the C-130 and crew linked up with the A-10s in California and flew to Hawaii together with an AATC KC-135 tanker from the 912th Air Refueling Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, Calif. Most of the A-10 pilots for the exercise were from AATC, but additional support came from the 190th Fighter Squadron in Boise, Idaho, and the 47th Fighter Squadron and 355th Wing at DM.

The airdrop objective in Arizona in itself is worthy of praise as AATC seeks to find a feasible solution for a problem the AFSPECWAR community (consisting of the Pararescue, Combat Control, and Tactical Air Control Party career fields) currently has with the Maritime Advanced Rescue and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MARRC) that is used by the Pararescuemen and Combat Controllers. The AFSPECWAR Airmen who participated in Exercise KANI WILDCAT included PJs from the 68th Rescue Squadron from DM, CCTs from the 125th Special Tactics Squadron in Portland, Ore., and a support Airman from the 306th RQS in Tucson, Ariz.

Special Warfare Airmen jump from an AATC C-130H as part of their training during Exercise KANI WILDCAT. (Air Force photograph by Maj. Angela Walz)

“The current solution is untenable because vendors take the approved MARRCs out of production too frequently to warrant changes in procedures and TOs [Technical Orders] with squadrons wasting funds to continually buy new MARRCs when their current models are still viable,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Niul Manske, director of the Test and Operations Group at AATC. “We’re conducting a risk-reduction event as part of this exercise to confirm whether or not our airdrop rigging process solution will solve this problem for the AFSPECWAR community.”

From Hawaii, the A-10s, KC-135, and crews departed to Wake Island Airfield, a desolate World War II-era island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and inhabited by no more than 150 people. “We had some great discussions with the command team there to determine the pros and cons of conducting an ACE operation at such an austere location,” said Manske. “It was a highly beneficial site survey for all of our close air support, personnel recovery, global access, and precision strike subject matter experts.”

En route to Wake Island Airfield, the crews crossed the international date line and were additionally able to assess the dependability of their jam-resistant global positioning systems. “ACE is especially important for our combatant commanders within INDOPACOM [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] so it’s important to experience what a deployment in that region would entail,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Bennett Merriman, AATC A-10 combined test facility director. “Crossing the international date line was just one piece of the larger ACE puzzle that we’re trying to put together.”

From Wake Island, the teams returned to Hawaii to complete freefall airdrop training from the C-130s for the AFSPECWAR teams while the A-10s integrated with U.S. Marine Corps MV-22s and CH-53s. On the ground, Marine Corps Forward Area Refueling Point (FARP) teams practiced aviation-delivered ground refueling (ADGR) from the CH-53s to the A-10s. ADGR is frequently used for aircraft when unable to refuel in flight and/or to keep the aircraft closer to the fight.

A 912th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., sits on the ramp at Wake Island Airfield awaiting the return flight to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Active duty pilots from the Air Reserve Squadron refueled A-10s en route to Wake Island Airfield and transported Special Warfare operators and mail for delivery from mainland Hawaii to the remote island as part of the AATC ACE exercise. (Air Force photograph by Maj. Angela Walz)

“The ADGR concept is simply to use aircraft power to pump gas from one fuel source to another,” said Merriman. The FARP concept is a traditional component of an ACE mission.

The AFSPECWAR teams completed dive training the next day. Then, wrapped up the exercise with the A-10s and AFSPECWAR operators integrating again with U.S. Marine Corps MV-22s for additional close air support and combat search and rescue training. Manske and his team then returned to Tucson, Ariz., to work the next problem set.

AATC Headquarters is a tenant unit to the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing located at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Ariz., but an entity which reports to both the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. “We’re honored to host AATC at the Morris Air National Guard Base,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Butler, 162nd Wing commander. “They play a big role in making our United States military a more lethal, innovative force in a non-bureaucratic way.”

Master Sgt. Robert Jones, an AATC Avionics Technician based out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., prepares an A-10 for the return flight from Wake Island Airfield to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The A-10s were an integral part of Exercise KANI WILDCAT, a multi-faceted ACE exercise that allowed for several testing events and integration with Air Force Special Warfare operators, A-10s, C-130s, F-22s, MV-22s, UH-1Ns, and CH-53s. (Air Force photograph by Maj. Angela Walz)
AATC A-10 maintenance personnel prepare the aircraft for the return flight from Wake Island Airfield to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. The A-10s were an integral part of Exercise KANI WILDCAT, a multi-faceted ACE exercise that allowed for several testing events and integration with Air Force Special Warfare operators, A-10s, C-130s, F-22s, UH-1Ns, MV-22s, and CH-53s. (Air Force photograph by Maj. Angela Walz)
Tech. Sgt. Stephen Carrillo, an AATC A-10 Crew Chief, prepares for the return flight from Wake Island Airfield to Hawaii. The A-10s were an integral part of Exercise KANI WILDCAT, a multi-faceted ACE exercise that allowed for several testing events and integration with Air Force Special Warfare operators, A-10s, C-130s, F-22s, UH-1Ns, MV-22s, and CH-53s. (Air Force photograph by Maj. Angela Walz)

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