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Northern Edge: ACE in Action

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tylir Meyer
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 18th Wing, 374th Airlift Wing, 4th Fighter Wing and the 354th Fighter Wing, 366th Fighter Wing and 35th Fighter Wing recently partnered with Japan Self-Defense Forces to enhance Agile Combat Employment (ACE) capabilities from dispersed locations during Northern Edge 23-2, a combined, joint all domain field training exercise.


During NE 23-2, Kadena served as the hub, deploying ACE groups to smaller centers around the Indo-Pacific region, called spokes, to generate combat power and increase survivability by distributing assets over a wide area to accomplish various missions and complicate adversaries’ targeting cycles.


“This is a live environment,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Lauren Casulli, 374th Operational Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment flight commander. “We’re proving concepts we’ve been developing over the past four years.”


This exercise provided personnel the opportunity to practice, project and exercise ACE capabilities, ensuring long-lasting peace and stability of Japan and the Indo-Pacific region.


“There’s so many assets going into [Northern Edge] right now, showcasing how committed the Air Force is to rapid employment anywhere in this theater,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. TJ Yonkauske, 36th Airlift Squadron, C-130J Super Hercules pilot.


Working together to enhance agility and coordination will allow the U.S. and its Allies to provide rapid assistance anywhere in the Indo-Pacific. In addition to practicing ACE as a service, U.S. and Japanese forces also trained bilaterally to conduct rapid, sustained around-the-clock operations to ensure the defense of Japan and regional security.


“It’s been a tremendous opportunity from the fighter squadron perspective to be able to talk to the F-2 pilots stationed here at Hyakuri Air Base,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Joseph Curran, 355th Fighter Squadron director of operations. “We’re able to solidify some of the tactics, techniques and procedures that we operate to better integrate as Allies now, and in the future; to solidify the peace and security of the Pacific region.”


Similarly, to a convoy spreading out to reduce damage from an improvised explosive device, the hub and spoke method disperses forward-deployed forces around a region using ACE.


Participating aircraft fulfilled roles ranging from cargo transport and air refueling to combat capable aircraft. Maintainers and command and control teams were transported to various spokes to support and facilitate aircraft movement.


“The idea is to spread forces out, making it more difficult to have a single point of failure so we can keep our combat capability going during a major conflict scenario,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Hansen, 334th Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle pilot.


The use of spokes during this exercise provides a tangible demonstration of ACE capabilities allowing for high-end, realistic training, while also testing participants on how to advance force interoperability within the region.


“The ACE concept sounds great on paper but it’s nothing but a theory until we put it into practice,” Hansen said. “Once we do exercises like this and prove we can disperse and operate, that becomes a very strong message to any adversary that we are serious, one, about the concept, and two, about our ability to do it.


“It legitimizes the concept."


By staging out of Kadena, forward-deployed forces build experience operating in the physically vast and strategically complex environment of the Indo-Pacific, enabling greater readiness and interoperability with joint and allied forces.


“It gives people more insight into what we can do, not only in the Pacific but across the whole Air Force,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D’Angelo Seabron, 36th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. “We are bringing the ACE concept to life. We are showing other people that this capability is available, and it can happen.”


Participants said the exercise developed valuable skills while operating across many locations, flying long hours to deliver cargo and personnel, and integrating with Allies.


“It’s been a great exercise. The amount of dedication and effort people have put into making it a success is awesome to see,” said Casulli. “I’m glad to be out here with the team that I have.”