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Fri, Jan 20, 2023

USAF Launches 24 C-17s During Mission Generation Exercise

Answering the Call

South Carolina’s Joint Base Charleston is a military installation under the jurisdiction of the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command’s 628th Air Base Wing. The facility is an amalgam of the USAF’s Charleston Air Force Base and the United States Navy’s Naval Support Activity Charleston, and shares runways with Charleston International Airport (CHS).

On 05 January 2023, Joint Base Charleston launched no fewer than 24 C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lift transport aircraft as part of a mission generation exercise that comprised forces of the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps operating across five locations.

The exercise occasioned the largest C-17 launch ever from a single base and demonstrated the wing’s ability to rapidly generate and project overwhelming airpower alongside joint forces.

Major General Corey Martin, commander of the 18th Air Force remarked: “Air Mobility Command is the meaningful maneuver for the joint force, and our asymmetric advantage is our adaptable, talented Airmen. Every day, we are learning new lessons that we want to apply in combat, so this mission-generation exercise is a chance to test our capabilities at a tempo and scale that approximates combat operations.”

The C-17s initiated the exercise with a show-of-force flight over Charleston Harbor’s Ravenel Bridge, then dispersed to hone four core capabilities: command-and-control, navigation, tempo, and logistics under fire.

C-17 Globemaster III pilot and lead exercise planner Major Zachary Barry asserted: “This exercise is about readiness and lethality. We wanted to get as many aircraft as possible off the deck in a 48-hour timespan, to tell pacing threats that we can go anywhere, anytime.”

As the C-17s proceeded afield, more than twenty red-and-blue team F-16s from South Carolina’s Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Air National Guard Base fought for air superiority while, below, the joint forces rapidly set up a simulated missile defense system.

Red team-blue team military exercises most often pit a belligerent red team against a friendly blue team. Though ordinarily undertaken to test force readiness, red team-blue team exercises have been staged to vet the security of sensitive sites such as nuclear facilities and the Department of Energy's National Laboratories and Technology Centers. In the 1990s, the Pentagon began using virtual red team-blue team exercises to test and improve the security of its computer and information systems.

Colonel Robert Lankford, commander of the USAF’s 437th Airlift Wing stated: “We have to fight to get to the fight. This exercise tests our ability to accomplish the mission, while geographically dispersed and with limited communications.”

The first wave of C-17s landed at North Carolina’s Pope Army Airfield, where Airmen worked alongside a joint communications support element to establish a tactical operations center. Additional C-17s made their way to Pope AAF to enplane special tactics Airmen and transport them to nearby Holland drop zone where the troops executed static-line parachute jumps as part of the simulated securing of the installation’s unimproved landing strip.

A second contingent of C-17s made its way to North Carolina’s Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, where their crews rapidly uploaded HIMARS rocket launchers before continuing on to Pope AAF and performing a HIMARS Rapid Infiltration (HIRAIN) operation.

A number of C-17s landed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and executed integrated combat turns to expediently refuel U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters.

Meanwhile, at Georgia’s Hunter Army Airfield, aircrews focused on logistics under fire, exercising skills beyond the purview of their primary duties to accomplish the simulated mission.

Major Barry added: “What we’re practicing are flexible deterrent and flexible response options. If we can move really quickly, it makes it harder for the adversary to respond.”

In all, the joint exercise saw some sixty aircraft, including an E-3 Sentry and KC-135 Stratotankers, take to the air for purpose of synchronizing capabilities, maximize lethality, and affording Airmen opportunity to increase their battlespace awareness in a contested environment.

“This is a historic exercise for us because we need to be able to fight tonight,” Major Barry concluded. “We need to be ready to answer the call no matter what.”



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