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    Michigan Airmen drive future, build agile refueling processes

    Wet wing defuel of KC-135

    Photo By Tech. Sgt. Chelsea FitzPatrick | Two members of the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Wing practice removing fuel...... read more read more



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Chelsea FitzPatrick 

    127th Wing

    SELFRIDGE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mich.—Members of the 127th Air Refueling Group are answering the Air Mobility Command leader’s call to revamp how they accomplish their KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft mission, by creating a training program for it.

    Airmen of the 127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard are trailblazing KC-135 Stratotanker specialized fueling operations by writing the procedures for and establishing a training environment at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, one that has already given air crews from more than four tanker units the opportunities to practice new tactics.

    “We must drive the future with bold, disruptive, solution-oriented actions with the tools we currently have and new tactics, techniques and procedures to employ them,” Gen. Mike Minihan, AMC commander said. “Today, AMC Airmen will innovate, using the tools we have in new ways, to create novel operational concepts for AMC and the joint force.”

    Minihan’s call to action in 2022 followed the release of Air Force Doctrine Note 1-21, “Agile Combat Employment.” The goal of the ACE concept is for U.S. forces to maintain the upper hand in combat by creating a more challenging fight for adversaries. Ultimately, the Air Force wants to execute unexpected combat tactics by cross-training Airmen in a variety of skillsets and creating capabilities for aircraft to operate in new innovative ways, outside established locations.

    How can an aircraft weighing more than 161 tons operate with greater agility? According to Chief Master Sgt. Erik Wolford, senior enlisted leader of the 191st Maintenance Operations Flight at Selfridge, one of the answers is through specialized fueling operations, a combination of hot refueling and wet wing defueling processes.

    “Our team has drafted a concept of operations for the KC-135 that optimizes hot refueling and creates a wet wing defueling task,” Wolford said. “A lot has been learned through developing and employing hot pit refueling procedures with the KC-135 over the past few years.”

    A “hot” KC-135 keeps at least one engine running during on-ground refueling. Getting a KC-135 back in the air more quickly increases the lethality of the collective U.S. military air mission, keeping aircraft in the air for longer.

    “Wet wing” refers to an aircraft that carries fuel. Wet wing defueling achieves a similar outcome when a KC-135 lands in a contingency location, then offloads a portion of its fuel into a refueling vehicle while all the plane’s engines run hot.

    Contingency locations are areas outside of established bases that can meet the needs of aircraft supporting combat operations, as close to the fight as possible. This agile combat scenario greatly expands the KC-135 fuel delivery capabilities, extending its reach even further.

    When originally researching the wet wing defueling potential of the KC-135, Wolford and his team did not think there was a documented capability for the process. As it turned out, there was doctrine to support procedures but the methods would not work efficiently in combat scenarios. The team sought guidance from Air Force Special Operations Command to help develop a concept of operations, or, “CONOPS,” for the KC-135 wet wing defueling process in a combat location.

    “We married-up the KC-135 draft CONOPS we have with [AFSOC’s] CONOPS and the outcome is very “air-crew-centric,” Wolford said. “We focused very heavily on having air crew perform the task in its entirety.”

    This meant that an Airman proficient in operating a boom during aerial refueling would now need to become proficient in SFO procedures on the ground.

    Col. Leah Voelker, 127th ARG commander, said her team has created a lot of synergy on improving mission agility over the last couple years with key Michigan National Guard assets such as the 110th Wing, in Battle Creek, the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center and the National All-Domain Warfighting Center.

    “We are very passionate about getting after, demonstrating and looking for the capabilities needed for the next war fight and Michigan has created such a great environment for that,” Voelker said.

    The 127th ARG has also forged partnerships with civilian airports around the state, such as MBS International Airport in Freeland and Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport. The latter two locations, along with SANGB, were certified for hot refueling operations on both the KC-135 and KC-46 Pegasus aircraft, in summer 2023.

    “We’ve created a space where we can train and get better so that we are more lethal and we’re ready to answer the fight,” Voelker said.

    This summer, the 127th ARG was able to put years of hard work, research and development into practice when they hosted and certified seven different air crews in multiple locations around Michigan in SFO procedures.

    Many of the certification events took place during Exercise Northern Strike 23-2, one of the Department of Defense’s largest reserve component readiness exercises, bringing more than 7,000 participants from 25 states, one territory and four partner nations to the NADWC to train in a variety of war-fighting scenarios.

    Tanker generation teams comprised of 10 air crew members, employed at three locations, successfully moved fuel to practice these agile combat skills.

    “We were able to move more than 500,000 pounds of fuel, qualify over seven crews, and conduct over 66 [missions] while proving multiple concepts within the ACE envelope,” Maj. Mark Hanna, 217th Air Component Operations Squadron out of Battle Creek, and NS 23-2 planner for the ARG, said.

    Although the successes have been great, there have been challenges in developing and implementing new concepts. The 127th ARG and its support team have been taking detailed notes along the way so they can adapt and overcome.

    “The biggest challenge is that [SFO] is something we haven’t done before so its constantly evolving,” Hanna said. “We tackle something that hasn’t really been done before and we hone it.”

    Despite the seemingly monumental task of the SFO process for the KC-135 and creating the environment needed to certify non-fuel-specialized Airmen in these skills, the team responsible for achieving the positive outcome has a high-level of camaraderie.

    “We have an excellent team, a group of people leaning forward, across the state,” Hanna said. “It truly has been an integrated effort, not just in the state, but from seven other units, Air Combat Command, AMC, across the entire Air Force spectrum.”

    Since the first enabling factor of ACE is the multicapable Airman, Voelker wants to give all the Airmen involved their due praise.

    “I’m thankful to have been able to watch this team come together: the individual Airmen who looked at each other and themselves in the mirror and asked the hard questions,” Voelker said. ‘I’m very grateful to work with this team and watch what they can accomplish because what they’re doing is extraordinary.”



    Date Taken: 11.28.2023
    Date Posted: 11.29.2023 15:28
    Story ID: 458557

    Web Views: 436
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