LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. – As the saying goes, you have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run.
For the Agile Combat Employment program, or ACE, the concept is no different when it comes to training Airmen for duty at Luke Air Force Base and in various theaters of operations.
“ACE as a concept of operations has been around in various forms across the Department of Defense since World War II,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Anthony J. “Rev” Mullinax, 56th Mission Support Group commander. “However, over the last several years ACE is a concept we’ve been developing across our Combat Air Forces that transforms the way we deploy and present agile combat forces in the expeditionary environment.”
The idea behind ACE is to train Multi-Capable Airmen (MCA) that may forward deploy to future Air Base squadrons supporting lead wings in a high-end fight against adversaries like China. The Airmen must be able to execute multiple air force specialties at a minimum level of proficiency in an agile combat environment.
With ACE and MCA, Airmen will form a ‘team of teams’ learning capabilities enabling contingency locations to rapidly turn combat aircraft while concurrently defending their fighting position against our adversaries.
“[What it means to be a multi-capable Airman is] that they have multiple skills and that they’re proficient at each job needed to get those birds in the air,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Seth Negley, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron petroleum, oil, lubricants fuels distributor. “The idea is to be able to do our jobs everywhere and anywhere.”
At Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field, Gila Bend, Arizona, Airmen employed ACE tactics to perform a hot-pit refueling for two F-35A Lightning II aircraft during an ACE multi-capable exercise, March 31, 2022.
“When the jets land, they need fuel,” said Negley. “We’re out there, already in position, they taxi in right next to us, and we refuel them with the engine still running so they can get back up into the air. It’s basically efficiency at its finest. During wartime, we won’t have time for them to shut down and start back up, so we refuel them as quick as we can so they can take to the skies as fast as they can.”
This form of refueling can take roughly 10 minutes to complete, allowing the aircraft to rejoin the fight with minimum delay. Though hot-pit refueling is only one piece of ACE, performing these exercises is essential to becoming a more agile force.
“Not everyone has to be, nor can they be an expert, but they’re going to have to be multi-capable,” said Mullinax. “A POL R-11 driver, as it stands today, gives the fuel hose to the crew chief. No one else touches the skin of that aircraft but the crew chief for a multitude of reasons.”
Mullinax goes on to say that the current way of doing things falls under a “stove-pipe” mentality. The crew chief is the crew chief, the POL driver is the POL driver, and so on.
“If a crew chief on a 25-person MCA team goes down, which is how we’ll practice in the near future, another MCA has to hook up that hose to the aircraft while the engines are running,” said Mullinax. “There are only going to be a few maintainers on the team, and some of those maintainers may be on the perimeter defending the position or working with civil engineers executing runway spall repairs.”
“A Defender, explosive ordnance disposal troop, a material management troop, etc., must know how to take that fuel hose, hook it to the aircraft and understand how to do the POL Airman’s job. Is the R-11 truck grounded properly? What’s the proper fuel flow rate? What’s a dead-man handle and how does it work? They have to know all of those basic capabilities in order to turn the jet and win the fight.”
Though exercising the ACE program and MCA is new to the 56th Fighter Wing and the Air Education and Training Command, Airmen have been taking great strides implementing their training into real world scenarios.
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity to learn” said Negley. “We’re pretty efficient at our job here because we’re flying all day, every day. Now it’s time to expand and learn how to do it at different locations.”
Mullinax gives Airmen all the credit.
“I’ll tell you who is making this happen, the Airmen,” said Mullinax. “Commanders provide intent with sometimes limited direction; then we empower and trust our Airmen and get out of their way. In this case, I asked Maj. Leung [56th Logistics Readiness Squadron] and Lt. Col. McGuire [56th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander] to build an ACE/MCA ‘team of teams’ with their operations and maintenance counterparts. They were given intent with a few right and left limits and were off and running. In addition, our operations and maintenance partners signed up to execute.
“The strategic message is ACE is not just about the ‘CAF’ anymore, we are incorporating ACE and MCA culture in the very training bedrock of our institution…AETC!”
The exercise, Mullinax says, was a success, with both jets being refueled efficiently by 56th MSG Airmen, including Negley alongside our maintenance and operations teammates.
“As an Air and Space force, we must be comfortable operating in a volatile and ever changing expeditionary environment,” said Mullinax. “We empowered and trusted [our Airman] to crawl in this exercise and they hit a homerun. I’m proud of them and look forward to what they will accomplish next!”