Tankers Practice Speedy Deployment in European Refueling Exercise

KC-135 Stratotankers from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, U.K., practiced supporting other aircraft in “Exercise Wolff Pack,” a multinational event over Europe that ended Oct. 1.

Nine of 12 KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing taxi down the flightline during Exercise Wolff Pack at RAF Mildenhall, England, on Sept. 29, 2020. Photo: Karen Abeyasekere/USAF

The three-day effort vetted the wing’s ability to deploy its aircraft to multiple places across Europe “in order to protect and defend partners, allies, and U.S. interests at a moment’s notice” and sharpen the agile combat employment (ACE) construct, wing spokesperson Capt. Shelley A. Spreier told Air Force Magazine in a Sept. 30 email.

ACE is the Air Force’s effort to move troops and planes around the globe quickly and with less reliance on brick-and-mortar installations, to be more responsive and resilient if bases are threatened.

Video: Staff Sgt. Anthony Hetlage/ 100th Air Refueling Wing

“What we were looking to do was get as many aircraft as possible away from Mildenhall to be able to provide that distributed force to the [joint force air component],” Lt. Col. Brandon Lauret, the 100th Operations Support Squadron commander, said in a video about the exercise. “With a distributed force, it makes the force less likely to be impacted by any sort of adversary action, and, therefore, we are able to provide that critical fuel to the fight.”

The wing said Oct. 1 that about 300 Airmen from 15 squadrons took part in the three-day exercise, during which the wing helped NATO allies with air refueling and worked on flexible deployment concepts with partner nations, Spreier noted.

ACE can help the 100th ARW better respond to crises, such as aeromedical evacuations or the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as needed, Lauret said. It may also complicate movement for an enemy if the tanker fleet can move more nimbly to support combat aircraft around the globe.

“Our adversaries may know that we are here in the AOR but may never really know what our next move or location will be,” Spreier wrote. “100th ARW participation in ACE exercises the ability to develop dispersal, generation, and sustainment capabilities away from home station.”

A KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing takes off during Exercise Wolff Pack at RAF Mildenhall, U.K., on Sept. 29, 2020. Photo: Karen Abeyasekere/USAF

Twelve KC-135s also took part in a Sept. 29 “elephant walk” as part of the larger exercise. Those parades of aircraft are used to signal military power to adversaries and “proved the capability of the entire 100th ARW team to ensure our readiness as a force multiplier,” Spreier said.

Other mobility aircraft elephant walks this year have featured KC-135s in Guam, KC-46 and KC-135 tankers in Kansas, and C-12s, C-130s, and a C-17 in Alaska.