ACE exercise advances 9th Reconnaissance Wing, 55th Wing operations

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Hailey Malay
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

The 9th Reconnaissance Wing alongside the 55th Wing completed Dragon Flag EAST after two-week joint operations April 7 at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

The 9th RW from Beale AFB, California and the 55th Wing from Offutt AFB designed and executed Dragon Flag EAST to simulate Agile Combat Employment (ACE) from non-standard operating locations for the U-2 Dragon Lady. The exercise prepared the two wings, integrating the U-2 and RC-135V/W Rivet Joint airframes, for potential future collaborative Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) operations in support of the National Defense Strategy.

“As a Lead Wing, we have to be prepared to provide command and control to any platform the Air Force has,” said Col. Kristen Thompson, 55th Wing Commander. “This exercise [was] an awesome opportunity to train directly with the 9th RW and further develop our tactics and cross-flow of intelligence gathering capabilities.”

The RC-135V/W and U-2 are reconnaissance aircraft which support combatant commanders and national level consumers around the globe. The RC-135V/W provides near real-time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities. The U-2 flies at altitudes over 70,000 feet, providing all-weather, high-resonance imagery and signals intelligence.

“The 55th Wing brought us into their operational spaces as if we were one of their own, and we were able to operate seamlessly; we were incorporated into their daily battle rhythm,” said a 99th Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 pilot. “[The wings] are from two different sides of the ISR enterprise, geographically separated units, and we have come together in one location and immediately started working together.”

9th RW and 55th Wing exercise planners assessed ACE and Multi-Capable Airmen (MCA) concepts whilst meeting combatant commanders’ reconnaissance objectives throughout all stages of Dragon Flag EAST. Support to the reconnaissance operation included professionals from logistics, physiological support, maintenance, intelligence, cyber, security forces, and medical fields. The ACE concept developed the size of each team and support equipment needed to execute the mission.

“In a smaller team, we’re more integrated,” said the 9th Logistics Readiness Squadron NCO in charge of deployment planning. “We took the U-2 package, we slimmed it down to make sure we had a very small footprint, we didn’t disrupt the base whatsoever, we completed our mission and had a quick turnaround of getting back home. It shows that we can go anywhere, anytime with the least amount of things and still get our job done.”

Airmen from the 9th Physiological Support Squadron exceeded ACE expectations as the team of four overcame various challenges and executed the mission.

“We’re the launch and recovery teams, so we integrate the pilot with the suit, then we integrate the system, pilot and suit, into the jet,” said the 9th Physiological Support Division oxygen calibration section chief. “ACE is important because if we’re considering conflict with a peer adversary, some locations will become unusable at some point. So proving that [we] can function at locations without prior preparation is a useful set of data to have.”

9th Operational Support Squadron intelligence analysts provided critical intelligence analysis and imagery dissemination to key decision makers during Dragon Flag EAST. Two 9th OSS Airmen supported the U-2 mission during high altitude flights, ensuring the 99th RS met combatant command ISR objectives.

“We’ve learned how the RJ crew - their pilots, navigation planners, and intel analysts - operates, and we were able to closely integrate throughout the exercise,” said a 99th OSS intelligence analyst. “We’re also sustaining the [U-2] mission with just two [9 RW] Airmen.”

Approximately 60 Airmen from the 9th RW repositioned to Offutt AFB to execute ACE and MCA while meeting ISR combatant command objectives. Six 9th RW squadrons and the 548th ISR Group furthered integration with the 55th Wing to develop reconnaissance capabilities and prepare to compete with future adversarial challenges.

“It has been very successful demonstrating that Air Force Airmen can come together from being in different places and start working together immediately,” said a 99th RS U-2 pilot. “It’s a testament to the training and the overall organizational DNA of the Air Force.”

The combatant command and Air Combat Command empowered 9th RW and 55th Wing Airmen to attack the ACE and MCA problems as aggressively as possible. One theme endured throughout the exercise: if you see a problem at your level, go solve it. Own the acceptable level of risk, and go do.

Dragon Flag EAST assessed current opportunities for Air Force wings to practice operational integration. The 9th RW and 55th Wing successfully integrated to reposition key assets and determine operational readiness.

“We are always postured to continue sustaining and assessing mission readiness, especially ACE and MCA concepts” said Col. Geoffrey Church, 9th RW Commander. “Dragon Flag EAST is the culmination of our ongoing efforts to build resilient, ready warfighters.”