CSAR trains to safeguard evolving threats

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Courtney Sebastianelli
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

The future of how the Air Force conducts combat search and rescue is in lockstep with how Defense Department tactics are evolving to meet the challenges of peer adversary threats. 

Gone are the days of aircraft simply launching from a large static base, like Ramstein Air Base or Kandahar Airfield, into a conventional-weapon-only combat zone. Instead, the Air Force is shifting its mindset to rapidly manned small footprint contingency locations to maintain a strategic edge against enemies who have advanced attack capabilities. 

Since that agile combat airpower requires a nearby alert rescue force, the 347th Rescue Group provided support during Mosaic Tiger 24-1 from Nov. 13-17, 2023. The readiness exercise was designed to hone the 23rd Wing’s ability to generate sorties while under simulated attack, which always has the potential for a downed aircraft and a hurt or captured pilot.

“The Air Force makes a commitment to its Airmen,” said Col. Brian Symon, 347th RQG commander. “We will do everything in our power to find and recover our isolated personnel anywhere on the globe. Combat search and rescue (CSAR) forces are how the Air Force honors that commitment. 

“We are prepared to find, support, recover and reintegrate our joint force service members. When they go to combat, they know that there is a community prepared to ensure that their worst day isn’t their last day.”

The training for CSAR missions focuses predominantly on tactical proficiency and technical skills. Symon said that long range rescue scenarios with restricted command and control capabilities will require Airmen to expertly employ mission command and operate in a disaggregated manner.  

“This community is inherently agile,” Symon said. “We train for a variety of environments, conditions and events. We are accustomed to launching on dynamic missions and working with the rescue team to minimize risk while effecting the operation.”

While adaptability is key to the rescue community as a whole, rescue pilots must be prepared to tackle any task in order to support the mission and remain ready to save lives at a moment’s notice.

“The CSAR community has a long list of capabilities that ensure its versatility,” said Capt. Jose Martinez-Alvarez, 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60W Jolly Green II pilot. “Among the Rescue triad, there are numerous tactical training procedures that allow CSAR forces to rapidly adapt to unknown and changing conditions.”

Recently, exercise Mosaic Tiger 24-1 demonstrated a variety of rescue scenarios. The team engaged in overwater search and rescue operations, overland mass casualty recovery missions, and simultaneous rescue operations at dislocated objectives.

Each event required rescue support to assess the threat, devise a strategic game plan and swiftly launch into action as quickly and safely as possible. The location of the exercise contingency location at Avon Park Air Force Range, Florida, and the available rescue assets at a forward operating site in Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, mimicked the tyranny of distance for real-world combat zone rescues.

“It differentiates our military from many other nations,” said Capt. Matthew Helton, 347th Operations Support Squadron and exercise planner, about the how much the Air Force prioritizes the responsiveness and maneuverability of rescue Airmen. “Bottom line, we care about people more than we care about equipment. A pilot’s experience is more vital than any machine out there, and we treat them as the priority commodity over aircraft or weapons. 

“CSAR also serves as a key safety net for any aircrew member who’s putting themselves in danger to accomplish a mission on behalf of our country,” he continued. “There is a group of highly skilled and trained professionals dedicated to making sure they come home alive.”

The world is unpredictable, said Martinez-Alvarez about potential future conflicts and the risk to force. However, whether it’s a new conflict or an unforeseen natural disaster, CSAR professionals are trained to execute any tasked mission, in any remote location, with the trust to get the job done during communication break downs.

“Training exercises stress the flow of standard communications allowing for tactical decisions to take place at the lowest level,” Martinez-Alvarez said about the rescue community’s participation in Mosaic Tiger 24-1. “Employing the commander’s intent, CSAR professionals are able to make decisions that impact the overall success or failure of their mission without the direct communication with higher leadership that we are used to operating with.”

The chance that communications will be interrupted may increase as the Air Force adopts the adaptive basing concepts identified within agile combat employment. Conducting operations in unfamiliar territory using non-native infrastructure poses an interesting problem set for Airmen supporting combat sorties and the nearby rescue team.

So, the rescue community must ensure their training today far exceeds the speed and intensity of the enemy’s capabilities of tomorrow to safeguard the Defense Department’s most vital asset: it’s people.