27th SOW tests new capabilities in unfamiliar terrain

In late July, for the very first time, the 27th Special Operations Wing conducted a full mission profile (FMP) hundreds of miles away in the mountainous terrain of Utah and Colorado.

The training provided Air Commandos with the chance to identify their strengths and weaknesses in an unfamiliar location while also testing brand new mission capabilities.

“This exercise provided the 27th SOW the opportunity to test our core competencies in a training environment over 400 miles away from Cannon,” said Capt. Phil Yarborough, 27th Special Operations Group assistant chief of group weapons and tactics.

Instead of using the nearby Melrose Air Force Range (MAFR), leadership focused on their need to perfect their tactics and apply new strategies in an unfamiliar environment. July’s FMP marks the first time an exercise of this scale was held in a remote location with full wing participation.

“The first mission we conducted was locating a simulated high value individual with basic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the training area we were working in,” said Maj. Michael Bien, 27th SOG chief of weapons and tactics. “This was different from what we’ve done in the past because when we exercise at MAFR, a lot of the logistical issues don’t become a part of the mission. By going all the way out to Utah, we were able to test those capabilities.”

“Projecting our forces at this distance provided aircrew an opportunity to overcome tactical and logistical challenges that are not usually encountered during our local training,” Yarborough said.

“Planning and executing a complex mission, like the events that took place during this exercise, helps to build upon the necessary skillsets of the Air Commandos,” Yarborough said. “Most importantly, it also exposes young aircrew to the challenges that they could encounter in a future deployment.”

The 27th Special Operation Communications Squadron stood up a fully functional joint operations center solely dedicated to the FMP at Cannon, which helped with long distance communication. This allowed aircrew and Special Tactics Airmen participating in the exercise to report back to the JOC consistently during the scenario via satellite communication.

The wing had to rely on multiple agencies and units in order to accomplish their objectives, despite beyond the line of site communication barriers. The depth needed to make this exercise a success surpasses any exercise done at MAFR: not only were there more than ten wing agencies involved, but the safety net of being close to home base was also taken away. Communication and logistical challenges had to be handled much differently.

Another capstone success marked during the exercise was the validation of a rapid ground refueling capability. This was successfully executed with a cold bulk fuel system delivering fuel to a U-28, also a first for the squadrons and the special operations group overall.

In addition to 27th SOG personnel, there were Airmen representing every group on base: tactical communication, medical personnel, and survival evasion, resistance and escape specialists.

“There were a number of lessons learned during this exercise, but the biggest take away was the importance of integration,” Bien said. “This exercise made the participants step out of their comfort zone by forcing them to solve a complex tactical problem that required the integration of the strengths and capabilities of all the assets here in the 27th SOW.”