Combat Air Forces wings transform for future fight

  • Published
  • By Capt. Lauren Gao
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

“Be ready for crisis before crisis emerges. Be ready for combat before combat begins,” says Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command.

ACC is evolving its organizational structures, warfighting concept of operations, force presentation and generation models, and how it prepares its Airmen to ensure they are ready for a battlespace that is vastly different than what they have experienced over the past two decades.

These transformations involve a new Wing organization that is optimized and ready to ‘max perform’ in crises and compete with peer adversaries. It also involves migrating to a sustainable, predictable, and capacity-based, readiness-generating force generation model. Finally, it involves transforming Airmen supporting operations, maintenance, and agile combat into a cohesive team ready to meet the nation’s call and have them execute wartime operations unlike ever before.

“Over the past 20 years of counterinsurgency operations in the Middle East, deployed Air Expeditionary Forces, organizational constructs, and warfighting were characterized by fixed bases with adequate air defenses, uncontested logistics and uninterrupted command and control,” said Kelly. “We controlled the combat tempo, and ‘crisis’ was something we imparted on adversaries at a time of our choosing.”

“But now, peer adversaries have the ability to attack our air bases. They will contest our logistics and they will interrupt our command and control. We can’t rely on fighting from traditional sanctuary bases so the Air Force is changing to meet the challenge,” he continued.

“There is no choice, but to change,” stated Kelly. “After three plus years of experimentation, we’ve learned there are significant gaps in our garrison structure and force presentation. We must be ready for crises at home or deployed before crisis occurs. We’re closing gaps in unity of effort and command and control and working our Global Force Management to present forces in a sustainable construct to avoid continued readiness declines. In the past, we routinely formed ad hoc battle staffs to manage an emerging crisis and we’ve learned that this A-Staff must be formed and functional before a crisis appears. We also deployed our warfighters forward to form a cohesive fighting force and we must acknowledge that a peer adversary requires that we establish high-performing teams before combat. Finally, we must be ready to operate in an environment where we must outmaneuver our adversaries. We should be operating the same way whether it’s training, crisis ops, or combat. A standardized wing structure and warfighting units are required to meet the challenges we’re facing. We must ‘accelerate change’ because the status quo won’t work.”

To meet the challenge, ACC began its transformation with the ‘organize’ step of its organize, train and equip mission, optimizing Combat Air Forces for Agile Combat Employment and peer competition where they must be able to rapidly insert forces, establish logistics and communication with theater command and control, receive follow-on forces, generate missions and project combat airpower.

Garrison Wing Organization: A-Staff and Groups

The most visible change to Airmen joining ACC will be that their Wing now has a fulltime A-Staff working alongside existing Groups. Instead of the ad hoc battle staff that stands up in response to an issue or crisis, the A-Staff will permanently exist to support wing and group commanders before a crisis emerges. Airmen will have the structures and tools to operate in a joint model and learn what it means to execute the joint planning process, generate orders, and execute the commander’s intent just like their sister service counterparts.

Several Wings, to include those at Moody, Mountain Home, Seymour Johnson and Beale AFBs, developed and tested this new A-Staff structure. What they found is it enables the commander to have the big picture needed for the Wing to execute cross-functional decision making with speed and agility as the Groups focus on executing their functions.

4-Phase Force Generation

In addition to structurally changing the Wings, Airmen across the Air Force are now aligned in a four-phase force generation model. Moving away from the current AEF process structured for supporting counterinsurgency operations, the new model ensures forces are no longer consumed faster than they can regenerate. The new AF Force Generation model enables units to build sustainable, high-end readiness. Restructured into four phases – Available, Reset, Prepare, and Ready – that span a 24-month cycle, AFFORGEN balances deployments against building readiness. It also gives Airmen time and space to strengthen cohesion with the same teammates that they will deploy with.

Combat Oriented Maintenance Organization

Closer to the flight line, Airmen in ACC’s aircraft maintenance squadrons are re-organized into the Combat Oriented Maintenance Organization. New Mission Generation Squadrons align maintenance efforts with operations. This concept first implemented at Shaw AFB’s 20th Fighter Wing, pairs maintainers in a squadron responsible for aircraft health and sortie generation alongside a flying squadron. The two units will work collaboratively at home – training the way they will fight – so there is unity of effort before deploying.

Lead Wings

Finally, to ensure its Airmen are ready to respond to any global crisis, ACC built Lead Wings that can rapidly deploy and provide a cohesive fighting force ready to execute as a high-performing team from the start. Now, Airmen will train together in garrison during the AFFORGEN Prepare and Ready phases, becoming a high performing task-organized team that is ready to deploy in the Available phase. Lead Wings are an aggregated force package comprised of an expeditionary A-Staff for command and control, Operations Squadrons and their partner Mission Generations Squadrons, and an Air Base Squadron.

Lead Wings with their A-Staff are optimized to aggregate and disaggregate capabilities with close linkage to Numbered Air Force, Major Command, and Joint Task Force command and control structures. Back at home station, the Group staff will continue to perform garrison missions while the Lead Wing conducts expeditionary operations. ACC will have five Lead Wings tasked and scheduled to deploy within the AFFORGEN cycle by October 2022.

Air Base Squadrons

A major portion of the Lead Wing is the formation of an Air Base Squadron. Some Airmen who perform Agile Combat Support roles like security forces, civil engineers, logistics, communications, medical and others will be task-organized into an Air Base Squadron assigned to a deploying Lead Wing.

These functions were traditionally crowd sourced from across the Air Force, with teams often meeting for the first time after stepping off the deployment rotator. Building cohesive teams before deploying will enable Air Base Squadrons to move and generate combat power faster from forward operating bases.

Multi-Capable Airmen and Agile Combat Employment

Mission generation Airmen performed specialized tasks and duties at established air bases in the past. In the future, teams of trained Multi-Capable Airmen will recover, refuel, reload and launch aircraft both at fixed bases and austere, temporary locations. This enables Agile Combat Employment by maintaining a nimble and reduced footprint that can project combat power while mitigating logistics under attack and thwarting other adversary threats.

What’s next?

ACC plans to implement this new Wing A-Staff structure in all its Wings by December 2022 through focusing on staff training, standardizing techniques, tactics, and procedures, and Wing readiness exercises. This is just the beginning of the immense culture shift that ACC is undertaking to prepare for the future.

“We live in an increasingly complex global security environment characterized by overt challenges to a free and open international order and the re-emergence of strategic competition where we no longer control the rheostat of time,” said Kelly. “Our Airmen, organizational constructs, warfighting concepts, force generation, and our Air Force, must change to meet the challenge, before the shooting starts.”