Reserve group proves distributed operations combat airlift concept

  • Published
  • By By Maj Ashley Walker
  • 913th Airlift Group

Air Force Reserve Airmen from 913th Airlift Group, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas planned and participated in a combat airlift distributed operations training event near Charleston West Virginia, Aug. 22-26.

In total, 8 C-130H and C-130J Hercules aircraft from six locations across the country came together to prove aircrew interoperability in a diverse environment. The Reserve and guard units operated from three basing locations and adhered to strict health precaution measures to participate in the week long training event.

“Our units are called to provide critical cargo and personnel to the warfighter in the most demanding and austere environments,” said Maj. Chris Acs, 327th Airlift Squadron chief pilot and overall mission commander. “These training scenarios are critical to building and maintaining that combat airlift capability across the force. We take our deployment experience and provide realistic training to better prepare for the current fight and future situations.”

The aircraft launched out of three different airfields to combine along the route into a large formation and fly to specific airdrop locations. Integrating with multiple units while remaining geographically separated during the planning and execution of the training event added a layer of complexity, but provided additional health precautions while functioning in a COVID environment.  

The training scenario required U.S. forces to be resupplied while surrounded by simulated hostile forces who had area denial capabilities. They enemy was assumed to be equipped with early warning equipment and air defense weapons. The restricted freedom of movement for combat airlifters required use of different tactics to provide the right equipment, at the right time, at the right location. The training scenario also introduced new drop zones as an added layer of difficulty for mission planners. 

“We worked with our intelligence specialists to create a scenario of operating in a degraded environment, close to enemy-controlled territory,” said Maj. Steve Freeman, 913th Operations Support Squadron chief of weapons and tactics and lead scenario developer. “Every situation is inspired by deployed experiences or what we anticipate. I want our crews to confidently create solutions to any sortie they might be assigned down-range.”

Air Force Reserve provides experienced manpower and is interchangeable, interoperable, and integrated across the Total Force. Units train to the same standard as the Active Component counterparts, maximizing effectiveness so much so that the warfighter cannot distinguish Reserve from Active Components. Nearly 80 percent of the Air Force Reserve are part-time, which brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise from their civilian careers.

“The unit has a wealth of experience that we can leverage across the mobility air forces,” said Col. Christopher Lacouture, 913th Airlift Group commander. “There was extensive planning involving multiple units where the majority of members are traditional reservists. Despite impediments of a pandemic environment, this exercise showcased our ability to generate combat airlift to meet any challenge and answer our nation’s call.”