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ACE ... Training Today To Win Tomorrow
by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan
December 17, 2023

Agile Combat Employment (ACE) is a concept introduced to improve the survivability of air power through dispersal by using proactive and reactive maneuvers. ACE maintains the ability to fulfill air tasking order requirements based on the mission sets from joint force commanders.

December 12, 2023 - U.S. Air Force members assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing and the 606th Air Control Squadron demonstrate Agile Combat Employment procedures during Exercise Fighting Wyvern 23-02 at Ljubljana, Slovenia. The 606th ACS is a mobile Command and Control combat unit that showcased the U.S. Air Force’s ability to perform ACE operations in support of the European Command. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan.)
December 12, 2023 - U.S. Air Force members assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing and the 606th Air Control Squadron demonstrate Agile Combat Employment procedures during Exercise Fighting Wyvern 23-02 at Ljubljana, Slovenia. The 606th ACS is a mobile Command and Control combat unit that showcased the U.S. Air Force’s ability to perform ACE operations in support of the European Command. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan.)

“The concept is nothing new,” said Dr. Sandeep Mulgund, senior advisor to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of the U.S. Air Force. “It’s as old as warfare itself.”

Proactive maneuvers are recognizing situations developing in advance threats and making decisions based on national or combatant command guidance to array forces in an advantageous way. Reactive maneuvers are responding to scenarios as they unfold.

Exercising ACE concepts ensures the U.S. Air Force operates in a modern combat environment. Aviano Air Base demonstrates this ability during exercises like Fighting Wyvern. The exercise operated in response to and within a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment while concurrently executing integrated and joint base defense operations with Slovenia and Italy. Fighting Wyvern 23-02 was the first time the 31st Fighter Wing operated ACE jointly with the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons, 606 Air Control Squadron and the 510th Fighter Squadron.

Dr. Mulgund spoke on the importance of integrating with NATO allies and partners into the decision-making process for new capabilities and better interoperating approach concepts.

“Humans tend to learn much more from challenges,” said Dr. Mulgund. “It's when you struggle with something, it's when you have to work through certain pop ups, unexpected challenges, whether its broken equipment, weather related, insufficient equipment or not having worked through some requirements in terms of coordination with a host nation. That's where we learn things.”

U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Stangl, 31st Maintenance Group commander, expressed the goal of the exercise is to learn as many lessons as possible and to not only work out material solutions but also test Airmen’s ability to problem solve in a more realistic environment.

“ACE in my words is a cultural change, it’s a change in how we employ our combat capability,” said Stangl. “Not just from a material perspective but also from our airmen’s capability perspective. We need a culture of think, execute and communicate.”

ACE utilizes partner nation air bases as alternate operating sites advancing power projection capabilities.

December 12, 2023 - A U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron prepares to land near other HH-60G Pave Hawks during Exercise Fighting Wyvern 23-02 at Cerklje, Slovenia. Exercise Fighting Wyvern demonstrated our ability to train with international partners providing mutually beneficial operational opportunities and promoted long-term relationships with future international military leaders. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan.
December 12, 2023 - A U.S. Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to the 56th Rescue Squadron prepares to land near other HH-60G Pave Hawks during Exercise Fighting Wyvern 23-02 at Cerklje, Slovenia. Exercise Fighting Wyvern demonstrated our ability to train with international partners providing mutually beneficial operational opportunities and promoted long-term relationships with future international military leaders. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan.)

“We have to think about how we maintain the effectiveness of generating air power in an environment where we have a smaller footprint,” said Dr. Mulgund. “In World War II we had about 90 overseas bases, now we have roughly 33.”

Dr. Mulgund spoke on the importance of understanding how to incorporate modern technology with ACE, because everything is observable and it’s important to understand how to maintain survivability and effectiveness in a scenario where everybody with a cell phone is posting on social media.

“A key piece is the human element,” said Dr. Mulgund. “It’s not just about each Airmen having different skill sets, it’s about how you build resilient teams.”

ACE exercises like Fighting Wyvern empower Airmen to find creative and innovative solutions that result in a more capable force.

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