GULF PORT, Miss. --
GULFPORT, Miss. – One of the U.S. Air Force’s newest concepts, Agile Combat Employment, is the focus of the Southern Strike 2023 exercise at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center.
Approximately 2,000 U.S. military service members are participating in the joint international combat exercise hosted by the Mississippi National Guard.
During the two-week exercise ending April 27, a combined force of Air National Guard, Army National Guard, Air Force, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard units train to prepare for air-to-air combat, aerial refueling, aerial and ground transport and close air support.
The exercise centers on emerging Agile Combat Employment tactics, techniques and procedures, and Multi-Capable Airmen training.
Army Special Operations forces are among the participants that conduct counterinsurgency, close air support, search and rescue, noncombatant evacuation, and maritime special operations. International partners are involved in air and ground training scenarios.
“Agile Combat Employment is a method of employing our personnel in resources instead of going to one large main operating base,” said Col. Bryce Butler, exercise director. “We disperse our assets and forces throughout many different contingency locations as it confuses adversary planning.”
The key to ACE is to spread out aircraft and supplies across multiple airfields rather than concentrating them in a few central locations to make it more complicated to target all of them.
“We disperse forces in order to complicate potential adversaries’ planning,” Butler said. “We have to have Airmen that not only know the job that they have been trained for but other jobs as well. When you disperse to those smaller bases and you have less personnel there, they have to be able to know many different jobs in order to be able to make the mission happen.”
The annual exercise provides valuable training scenarios to prepare fighters for various threats and enhance their knowledge of the ACE concept.
“Southern Strike provides us the opportunity to go to multiple contingency locations because we have a lot of small airfields around here that will be very illustrative of what we’ll find inside of the South Pacific,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony Stratton, the commander of the 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard. “We have the water here as well, so we can get our forces out there working together in a cohesive environment.”
ACE relies on multi-capable Airmen to recover, refuel, reload and perform maintenance to aircraft. This ensures they are ready to rapidly deploy a proactive plan of operation to boost resilience and survival while generating combat power.
“Multi-capable Airmen are doing jobs that are not in their specific specialty code, things like marshaling airplanes, helping to fuel airplanes, providing perimeter security, ingesting data, analyzing it and pushing it back out,” said Stratton.
“We may have to cover great distances, and so, no matter where we are in the future with our adversaries, whether they be in Eastern Europe, in the Pacific or wherever else, we have to be ready to employ this concept and remain agile so that if we’re detected and targeted, we’re able to redeploy to different locations using the ACE concept,” said Maj. Gen. Barry A. Blanchard, assistant adjutant general - air, Mississippi National Guard.