3rd AEW tests refueling methods during AR 23-1

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Hailey Staker
  • 3rd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

TINIAN, Northern Mariana Islands – Resources are key to executing combat airpower, anytime, anywhere, and without fuel, planes don’t fly.

To combat potential fuel shortage issues, fuels distribution operators assigned to the 3rd Air Expeditionary Wing exercised alternate refueling methods during Exercise Agile Reaper 23-1 March 2 at Tinian International Airport.

“As the lead logistics planner for the 3rd AEW, one of the main things my team and I wanted to exercise was how do we rapidly support and sustain F-22 [Raptor] sortie generation in a contested environment with limited resources, fuel storage capability, and manning,” said Capt. Alex Sparrow. “For this exercise, rather than utilizing large storage bladders and a mass amount of Airmen, we decided to only use a small team of petroleum, oils, and lubricants Airmen and R-11 vehicles by setting up a daily resupply of fuel through our own tactical airlift to defuel from a C-17 directly into the R-11s only, creating a possible real-world picture of limited storage capacity for sortie generation.”

In order to refuel F-22 Raptors flying out of Tinian, C-17 Globemaster IIIs assigned to the 517th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, flew out of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, daily and landed at Tinian where two R-11 refueling trucks awaited to download more than 12,000 gallons of fuel.

“That fuel was then taken back to our parking area where we ran a full lab sample on it to include water content of the fuel, particulate, and color of the fuel, as well as differential pressure of the separators,” said Tech. Sgt. Jordan Laughlin (duty title). “That allowed us to verify the fuels quality with fewer filtrations than normal ops. Now that that fuel has been cleared lab sample-wise, we will now turn around and put that fuel into F-22s.”

In an Agile Combat Employment environment, resources are limited, which means that in order to still meet Air Force fuel standards, proper sampling must be accomplished to ensure the fuel going into aircraft is clean.

“Day-to-day fuel quality control operations at home station locations look very different than this. This kit and these test sets are the most agile way to verify fuel quality in an ACE environment,” Laughlin said.

That fuel is also being filtered through the truck, pushed into a storage tank with a filter, and then filtered another two to three times before going into an aircraft like the F-22 Raptor.

“In this situation since we’re in an ACE environment, it’s important that although we’re not having as many filtrations, we still want to verify the quality of that fuel to maintain [the Air Force] standard to ensure the safety of the pilots,” Laughlin added.

Testing this method during AR 23-1 required higher-headquarters logistical discussions at both the Pacific Air Forces level and the Air Force Petroleum Agency.

“For this type of refueling and defueling scenario during the early stages of planning, we coordinated with PACAF A4R [POL] and AFPET to ensure we had the right mindset of what we wanted to accomplish moving forward,” Sparrow explained. “When we were officially on ground here at Tinian, it became a large-scale team effort between our POL team on the ground, the aircrew, our Air Mobility Cell, and myself - communication and effort had to be seamless to ensure success.”

As attention shifts from the Middle East to the Pacific, exercising ACE and logistical issues like fuel or communication in a contested, degraded environment is paramount to mission success.

“We must be prepared for contingency operations at a certain point - which is why we are working to train and exercise our team’s capabilities and establish the right tactics, techniques, and procedures to make our Airmen successful in a fight,” Sparrow said. “Every day, every exercise, every mission we are learning better ways to support and sustain our sortie operations. Our main goal from a logistics standpoint for this exercise is to identify areas to improve the support and sustainment of sortie generation in a contested environment, then capture and export the data to our command and HQs and then close the gap relentlessly. We have to instill a warfighting mindset into our teams.”

During AR 23-1, 3rd AEW POL Airmen proved that, even without fuel bladders or storage containers, maintaining sortie generation in a potentially austere, contested, and degraded environment is possible.

“Fuel is always going to be one of the biggest issues when it comes to Agile Combat Employment, and it’s so important on days like today where we’re testing new ways of getting fuel,” Laughlin added. “Today we proved you can do that without having a large stock on hand on a spoke. This has shown we can do it and we’ll continue to build on it.”