TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
*Editor’s note: Full names have been left out for operational security purposes.
Two wings, one mission: to execute a local squadron-planned exercise between the 23rd Wing and the 325th Fighter Wing during exercise Stealth Guardian August 7 through 11.
During months of planning between Tyndall AFB and Moody AFB, Georgia, exercise Stealth Guardian was conceived and executed by Airmen from both wings to explore Air Force capabilities in modern rescue scenarios and to integrate rescue and 5th generation assets in a deployed or contingency environment.
Additionally, the exercise tested the capabilities of Rapid Raptor, the Air Force’s ability to employ agile combat capabilities of 5th generation platforms like the F-22 to a combat or contingency environment as a moment’s notice.
“Stealth Guardian started off after a rapid rescue and Rapid Raptor exercise we conducted at Langley [AFB] this past May,” said Maj. Tom, Exercise Stealth Guardian planner and 347th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations. “Leadership from the different wings, specifically the leaders at Tyndall, wanted to integrate with rescue as well. They saw an opportunity to integrate rapid raptor with rescue because of the capabilities of the HC-130Js.”
Tom also added the ability to integrate with Air Force rescue assets allows for better cross flow communication and it improves the ability of F-22 operators to affect their own recovery and be the on-scene commander.
“From a survivor’s perspective, I know I am going to be much better prepared as a survivor on the ground understanding how the process works,” said Maj. Ryan, 95th Fighter squadron F-22 pilot.
Since the exercise was planned at squadron level, each unit was able to tailor not only how the exercise was going to be accomplished but also what would be learned and gained from it.
“We were able to tailor the exercise to meet the specific learning objectives of all the players,” Tom said. “By controlling all the aspects of the exercise, we never had to sacrifice learning objectives, flights or mission planning time that can sometimes occur at other larger exercises.”
In addition to being able to tailor learning objectives, Stealth Guardian allowed for 4th generation platforms to better integrate with 5th generation ones.
“I think integrating and speaking between older technology like 4th generation and 5th generation assets is crucial,” Tom said. “Anytime you can figure out how to make those assets affect their own recovery or how to affect the recovery of any coalition personnel is going to be crucial.”
For the 23rd Wing there were several successes that occurred during Stealth Guardian. According to Tom, the 347th Rescue Group was able to successfully integrate into the Rapid Raptor capabilities as well as prove they could stand up a personnel recovery task force with a minimal footprint.
Additionally during the exercise, F-22 Raptors were able to demonstrate the capabilities of Rapid Raptor by operating out of Moody.
“Refining Rapid Raptor increases the Air Force’s flexibility to provide a strategic and tactical response at a moment’s notice,” Ryan said.
The Rapid Raptor capabilities were also enhanced by an HC-130J Combat King II from the 71st Rescue Squadron. For the first time, an HC-130J was successfully able to execute a Forward Area Refueling Point with an F-22. The execution of this FARP further enhanced the ability of Rapid Raptor to be successful.
“We identified a lot of differences between the HC-130J and the MC-130 [which was used in a previous exercise] when it comes to the equipment and the way Air Combat Command assets do things compared to Air Force Special Operations Command,” Ryan said. “It’s a big deal, because it’s different than anything we have ever done before. It has helped us refine our tactics, techniques and procedures and identify creative solutions to help handle those friction points.”
Exercising the Rapid Raptor concept with the HC-130J resulted in Airmen finding a creative solution to an issue with loading needed equipment onto the aircraft. By identifying the issue now, Airmen at Tyndall are working to develop a piece of equipment that will allow the Rapid Raptor mobility piece to work on any C-130J variant.
“Solving those types of problems is significant for us because it allows us to lean the process. So, next time regardless of if it is a HC-130J or a C-130J we can make it happen,” Ryan said.
Overall, the exercise was very successful according to Tom and he envisions similar exercises in the future will only make things better.
“There are certainly lessons learned that can be applied to future exercises or even for those guys going down range when it comes to mission planning across the board,” Tom said.