SAVANNAH, Ga. – Air Force reservists in the 419th Fighter Wing are simulating a futuristic, fast-paced deployment using new techniques during Sentry Savannah, a large military exercise that kicked off here May 2.
Hosted by the Air National Guard’s Air Dominance Center, Sentry Savannah is a total force integrated exercise that showcases the nation’s fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft, testing the capabilities of warfighters in a simulated deployed environment and training the next generation of fighter pilots for tomorrow’s fight.
The exercise, which runs through May 13, has assessed 419th FW Airmen on their ability to rapidly deploy and process fighter aircraft, equipment, cargo and personnel, while maintaining mission readiness at their home station at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
For F-35A Lightning II pilots in the wing’s 466th Fighter Squadron, Sentry Savannah allowed them to practice and evaluate their air dominance capabilities in a simulated near-peer environment using high-level air-to-air combat exercises.
“This is a very important exercise for us,” said Col. Matthew Fritz, 419th FW commander. “The reason being is that we’re here trying to give proof to the concept of what is called ACE.”
Agile Combat Employment is a deployment concept that involves the use of multiple forward operating bases versus operating out of one or two main airfields during deployments. This showcases the Air Force’s operational edge by demonstrating the adaptability and rapid mobilization of combat sorties from locations with limited resources and personnel.
“Moving the wing across the country to a location separate from the main operating base gives us an opportunity to ensure that we know exactly what we need to operate from another location autonomously,” said Maj. Michael Oldenborg, an F-35 pilot with the 466th FS. “We’re not relying on any of the equipment down here in Savannah. We brought everything down here with us as if we were in a forward deployment combat location.”
At the core of the ACE concept are Multi-Capable Airmen, or MCA, trained to accomplish tasks outside their designated career field. This enables the unit to efficiently employ rapid mobilization and generation of aircraft and personnel while maintaining a smaller footprint of resources in a variety of environments.
“If we deploy to the Pacific or another region, we want to keep our footprint small to reduce the chance of a crippling attack,” said 2nd Lt. Colby Cole, officer in charge of the 466th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “In a combat environment, we can’t always take everyone with us. So not only will some Airmen have to be a crew chief, they’ll also need to know how to handle other maintenance functions, like fueling or ammo.”
The first iteration of the MCA concept for the 419th FW began during the March drill weekend with eight Airmen from the 419th Maintenance Group learning tasks and duties associated with the launch and recovery of the F-35.
“Being around aircraft can be difficult and overwhelming, so the goal is to build to the point where we have our Airmen feel confident and capable in completing these new tasks,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jake Lewis, accessories flight chief in the 419th AMXS. “We put together a solid team of Airmen to bring down here (to Savannah) and I couldn’t be more proud of what they’re accomplishing.”
The environment at Sentry Savannah enables Airmen to have one-on-one mentorship experiences with Airmen in various specialty roles, ensuring they understand the skills and responsibilities involved. Gaining insight in this simulated deployed environment allows Airmen to bring their new knowledge back to home station where they can then build on that experience.
Through participation in this exercise, the 419th FW is gaining critical insight into the logistics that will characterize future deployments. The experience will allow them to more efficiently execute the wing’s mission of deploying combat-ready Citizen Airmen, ensuring air superiority with the F-35.
“It’s extremely important for us to prove our ACE capabilities,” Fritz said. “That is the fight of the future.”
Hill AFB is home to 78 F-35s. The Reserve 419th FW and active-duty 388th FW fly and maintain the fleet in a Total Force partnership that capitalizes on the strengths of both components. Together, they are the Air Force’s first combat-capable units to fly and deploy the F-35.