ACE moves from experimentation to execution

  • Published
  • By Macy Harris
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

Air Combat Command (ACC) held a Realistic Training Review Board (RTRB) to look at global, real-world operations and how best to organize, train and equip Air Force units for success. The conference took place April 25-27, 2023, in the Creech Conference Room on Joint Base Langley Eustis.

The ACC Directorate of Air, Space and Information Operations (A3), Flight Operations and Training Branch (ACC/A3TO) division organizes the conference each year in late April or early May to examine the training requirements needed to fill combatant commanders’ needs. This year’s theme was: Moving from Experimentation to Execution, and specifically looked at how to effectively execute Agile Combat Employment (ACE).


The ACE concept shifts operations from centralized bases to a hub and spoke network of smaller, dispersed clusters of locations. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., defines ACE as “a proactive and reactive operational scheme of maneuver to increase survivability while generating combat power throughout the integrated deterrence continuum.”

Since ACE’s inception, Wings across the Air Force individually defined the scheme of maneuver using innovation and experimentation based on their assigned airframes and missions. They use exercises to practice forward deploying to austere locations, expedient refueling and munition loading, and generating airpower as quickly as possible.

“There has been a lot of confusion in the Combat Air Force (CAF) community about what ACE means, how to execute ACE when there are no real guidelines, and how the theaters each view ACE very differently,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Cichowski, Chief of the Flight Operations and Training Branch for ACC/A3TO. “ACE in Europe is going to look different than ACE in the Pacific theater, which is going to look different than the U.S. Central Command theater.”


This year’s conference focused on setting the baseline and standard for ACE across all theaters and looked at what training and equipment packages ACC needs to provide the CAF to be utilized anywhere.

The conference broke out into sessions by area of responsibility (AOR) to serve three major purposes for three stakeholders: Operational Group Commanders (OG/CCs), Combined Air Forces Air Component Commanders (CFACC) and Functional Area Managers on ACC Staff.

First, Cichowski explained, the conference allowed “OG/CCs to provide feedback to ACC staff on what training they’re executing at home station, what operations they’re deployed and engaged with in the AOR, and what help they need to ensure that the training makes them ‘ready’ for real world operations.

“It’s also an opportunity to have the various Combined Forces Air Component Commanders (CFACC) and combatant commands adjust the missions and level-set the expectations that they (the deployed AOR Staffs) expect deploying units to be able to perform.

“Last, it gives the OG/CCs face-to-face feedback with their Functional Area Managers (FAMs) on ACC Staff to ensure that the training being provided by ACC matches their needs.”

Each break out session included three parts:

  • Intelligence update based on the current global theater
  • CFACC expectations to address the AOR’s expectations for incoming units and OG/CCs
  • Realistic expectations review conducted by recently deployed OGs to share field experiences

The conference aimed to give OG/CC’s a balance between CFACC’s expectations and what they can realistically expect, thereby creating better comprehensive training plans.

This year’s conversations included looking at how fighter weapons systems, like the F-22 and F-16, may need to adjust their defensive counter air (DCA) training to meet new mission requirements.

Cichowski said, “It’s taken a little bit of time for us to make an adjustment in saying that DCA is not necessarily going against air breathing targets. These new targets are much smaller and harder to detect. They are much slower and flying lower than you’d see in a typical DCA scenario that we would [traditionally] train to.

“Counter cruise missile defense and counter unmanned aerial defense could be difficult to replicate during live fly training. The targets would have to be small enough and fast enough to imitate those the operator would realistically fight against.

“That forces the conversation: How much of our live fly training is inadequate for the fight we expect to fight now and how much of that training should we be shifting to a simulated environment that can maybe more accurately replicate the missions we are going to have to fight?”

This one example showcases how OG/CCs, CFACCs and ACC Air Staff (A Staff) each play a role in providing adequate training to meet the ever-changing mission requirements.

“OG/CCs should walk away from the RTRB knowing what the deployed AOR’s expectations are for when units deploy to a given theater; understand current projects and associated timelines that ACC Staff is working on to provide training opportunities to the CAF; and begin prepping the annual training plan, also known as the Ready Aircrew Program Tasking Message (RTM), changes with their FAMs in anticipation of the FY24 RTM working group which will take place in August,” explained Cichowski.

RTRB is the second of a four-part continuous cycle designed to ensure training requirements funded by the ACC A Staff meet the operational communities’ needs.

  • The cycle begins with an RTM working group in late August to design the annual training requirements and produce the new RTMs for the fiscal year.
  • The CFACC expectations portion makes up the second phase of the cycle which occurs every odd year from November-February.
    • U.S. Air Forces Central (AFCENT), Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) share the mission execution capabilities they expect from forces that deploy to their theater.
    • ACC consolidates, adjudicates and delivers the results to Commander Air Combat Command. They advise which missions ACC can realistically train to and execute based on funding, equipment and manpower.
    • CFACCs receive results ahead of the RGRB conference in the spring.
  • RTRB acts as a mid-year training and readiness review to evaluate RTM effectiveness and needed modifications. It takes place halfway through the fiscal year (FY) to give OG/CCs the chance to request assistance with completing the remainder of their annual training plan.
  • The four-step cycle concludes in November with an end of year training and progress report which looks at how units performed against their RTM from the previous FY.