EXPLODEO practices deployment, mission generation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Felicia Przydzial
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from five flying squadrons out of the 22nd and 931st Air Refueling Wings participated in a series of events defined as EXPLODEO in multiple locations Feb. 24-28, 2024.

“EXPLODEO is the popularized term to highlight Air Mobility Command’s emphasis on exploding into theater,” said Lt. Col. Kristen Smith, McConnell EXPLODEO lead planner. “The goal is to exercise every aspect of the [Wings’] ability to rapidly deploy and employ.”

Explode into Theater events like this allow teams to expand Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures and increase capabilities.  The exercise demonstrates and tests the wings’ ability to rapidly employ into theater with combat power for a variety of missions.

Exercises, such as EXPLODEO, also allow wings to practice their organic capability to support tanker operations, at bases and places with no existing tanker units or maintenance to provide backup support. McConnell’s EXPLODEO started with a short-notice mission tasking, to identify and prepare Airmen to deploy and prepare both KC-46s and KC-135s for the Airmen to move forward with.

After taking off from McConnell, the aircrews received exercise injects en-route which simulated re-taskings from a combatant commander in an ever-changing operational environment, requiring dynamic decisions by the deploying commanders to demonstrate the agility and adaptability needed to meet the latest mission needs and ensure mission effectiveness.

After that, the McConnell KC-46s and KC-135s eventually landed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.  This base in Washington served as the main simulated remote destination and forward operating base for the duration of the exercise.

While off station, the McConnell aircraft split into three elements, most with mixed airframes, and performed a range of tasks, missions and Agile Combat Employment activities with Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota; Travis Air Force Base, California; and Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Among the activities were hot-pit refueling, wet wing defueling, drogue refueling of Navy EA-18G Growlers and boom refueling of Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and F-35A Lightning II aircraft. Each of the receivers were selected to test the 22nd ARW’s proven capabilities to support and sustain Joint operations.  Crews aggressively tested interconnectivity and beyond-line-of-sight capabilities to further AMC’s “25 by 25” initiative to connect 25 percent of the mobility force by 2025.

“To ensure the Wings’ ability to support Agile Combat Employment, the exercise requires a small, agile footprint that can flex at the tactical level with a changing environment that achieves strategic objectives,” said Smith. “Additionally, EXPLODEO will help evaluate [our] capability to deploy and support the Air Force Force Generation cycle. The exercise is correlated with what McConnell would expect to be tasked with.”

The 22nd ARW was also executing a wider range of missions concurrent with EXPLODEO. In addition to real-world missions off-station supporting the greater Rapid Global Mobility mission, the 22nd ARW also conducted a Nuclear Operational Readiness Exercise at home-station to support its U.S. Strategic Command mission to be prepared for any potential future conflict and ensure a safe, secure and reliable strategic deterrence force.

“This past week hasn’t been easy, and it wasn’t meant to be easy,” said Col. Cory Damon, 22nd ARW commander. “We had two exercises running simultaneously, fulfilling multiple missions with multiple airframes testing various capabilities across different command authorities, in addition to supporting real-world taskings off-station. This is what we could face in a real-world scenario and we need to be ready for these challenges, in order to provide unlimited range to fuel Rapid Global Mobility and maneuver the Joint Force.”  

Through these exercises, Team McConnell has worked with purpose and pride; working through weather, exercise injects and real-world challenges as they appeared; finding ways to overcome those challenges and make the mission happen, he added.

 “We’re going to take the experience and lessons learned from EXPLODEO and the NORE and build on our proven capability into McConnell AFB’s LETHAL PRIDE and other exercises later this year,” continued Damon. “Our Airmen are what make our air refueling mission a success.  Never forget that our nation and its people depend on us, and we’ll be there. Your talent, teamwork, and experience will always be in demand to win.”