Advanced Combat Operations Training at JBLM

By Senior Airman Taylor Curry on June 6, 2013

Sequestration has cut the Air Force's flying budget, but tanker aircrews are finding new ways get more training and experience out of each minute in the air.

The tactics and employment flight at Fairchild Air Force Base has teamed up with Travis Air Force Base and Joint Base Lewis-McChord to participate in quarterly Advanced Combat Operations Training (ACOT) exercises. The latest exercise occurred May 31, when a Fairchild associated unit from March Air Force Base sent two aircraft and crews that coordinated mission planning in what's called a large formation, consisting of four KC-135 Stratotankers.

These four tankers met large formations of C-17 Globemaster IIIs and KC-10 Extenders in the skies above Western United States to refuel. While this is the task that tanker crews perform every day all over the world, these rendezvous and refuelings were done without radio communication between the refuelers or the receivers.

KC-135s have electronic instruments that help them accomplish maneuvers in radio silence, but Fairchild crews are also practicing how to accomplish the mission even without those electronic aides, added Capt. Dana Stockton, 92nd Operations Support Squadron chief of employment and tactics flight.

"This exercise packs several valuable training events into one flight," said Capt. Mitch Ehresman, 92nd Operations Support Squadron exercise coordinator. "It also provides a mission planning cell opportunity wherein members get experience in leading a group to accomplish flight planning, briefing, and instruction."

While declining budgets and flight hours have made these exercises essential to maintaining aircrew qualifications this year, exercises like this have been a common occurrence here for the past two years. This time, both March and Fairchild crews received valuable experience in large formation procedures, radio silent rendezvous and contingency air space procedures.

"This quarter is focused on conducting large formation air refueling in environments that prevent the open use of radio communication," Stockton said. "The tanker community at large has focused a lot of energy on refining radio and formation discipline. Fairchild has been and will continue to be on the leading edge of this effort."

Senior Airman Taylor Curry is a journalist with the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs