F-35A maintainers, special ops team for forward refueling

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  • 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

America’s most advanced aircraft integrated with a variant of one of its oldest and truest airframes this week to provide more combat flexibility to the Air Force.

For the first time, Airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, and Airmen from the 26th Special Tactics Squadron and the 27th Special Operation Logistics Readiness Squadron, Canon Air Force Base, trained and carried out a Forward Air Refueling Point (FARP) operation from the MC-130J to the F-35A.

During this forward refueling scenario, an MC-130J lands at a remote airfield secured and managed by Air Force combat controllers. The C-130 crew, made up of loadmasters and fuels troops, or “Farpies,” quickly set up equipment and fuel lines, then transfer fuel from the MC-130J to other aircraft landing behind them – in this case, an F-35A.

The training is a building block in adaptive basing development. Adaptive basing is a key component to providing air power in highly-contested modern warfare. To succeed, Airmen from different platforms and different specialties must train to work together effectively, planners said.

“We’re really experienced at FARP operations with fourth-generation aircraft like the F-16 and the A-10 but this is the first time we’ve done it with the F-35,” said Maj. Meghan O’Rourke, an MC-130J combat systems officer with the 9th Special Operations Squadron and one of the organizers of the exercise.

The 9th SOS has refueled F-22s and is traditionally a place where new operations are given a trial run, O’Rourke said.

Expanding FARP operations with the F-35A will provide commanders more options in a near-peer fight where other support may be limited.

“Setting up a FARP gives us flexibility in planning because we now have the capability to land in a remote location, refuel, potentially re-arm and go take the fight to the enemy, and the F-35 can bring a lot to the fight.” said Lt. Col. Matthew Olsen, director of operations for the 421st Fighter Squadron and one of the F-35 pilots who flew to Cannon.

The training brought together pilots, maintainers, special operators and planners.

The maintenance footprint for the training was adaptive too. A small group of Blended Operational Lightning Technicians from the 388th Maintenance Group traveled to Cannon to provide training and support to the special operations airmen.

“It’s been very valuable to interface with the refueling troops and special-ops guys,” said Master Sgt. Dantorrie Herring, 388th Maintenance Group. “A lot of lessons learned and we demonstrated that we can do this with a small group of BOLT Airmen.”

Instead of bringing a group of 12 F-35A maintainers, Herring brought three Blended Operational Lightning Technicians, F-35 crew who are trained in multiple aspects of maintenance. In scenarios like FARP operations, the BOLT program can reduce manpower by more than 65 percent.

“If you think about doing this ‘real-world,’ we want the smallest footprint we can have,” Herring said. “With adaptive basing and BOLT you don’t have to send the whole unit.”