Utah National Guard's Exercise Perses: Innovation, Joint Force Collaboration and the Future of Airpower

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Perez
  • 151st Wing

The Utah Air and Army National Guard conducted a joint exercise at various military installations around Utah on Feb. 3, 2024. This exercise demonstrates the state's commitment to innovative military strategies and readiness to face evolving threats. The exercise focuses on training Airmen and joint forces across Utah, including six Army and Air Force units, in planning and executing missions swiftly and effectively, especially in unpredictable scenarios and contested environments.

As global threats evolve, the United States prioritizes operations from austere locations, with rapid global mobility emerging as a linchpin for persistent logistics. Unique strategies are being explored to utilize mobility aircraft for this mission, ensuring adaptability in changing geopolitical landscapes.

Following the Agile Combat Employment doctrine outlined in Air Force Doctrine 1-21, this exercise challenged UT ARNG, UT ANG, and 419 Fighter Wing participants to employ airpower in a simulated conflict scenario with a peer adversary.

Agile Combat Employment emerged as a pivotal operating concept in today's changing threat environment, challenging traditional notions of overseas bases as sanctuaries. By shifting the generation of airpower to more minor, dispersed locations, ACE enhances the flexibility of joint and coalition commanders to move forces fluidly within and across theaters of operation.

"As we engage in great power competition, it is crucial that we innovate and optimize our force. We must adapt and change how we train and fight; conflict against China will be very different from any battle we've ever had," said Maj. Gen. Dan Boyack, The Adjutant General of the Utah National Guard. "We must aggressively push new and sometimes uncomfortable tactics to win. This exercise lets the warfighters push their limits to create and perfect capabilities they need to deter and defeat our adversaries."

One of the critical highlights of the exercise was the joint training of Air Force and Army units at multiple locations, exposing the entire force to various challenges. This intentional design aimed to test and refine procedures, ultimately increasing the lethality of the combined forces.

Boyack said, "The Utah National Guard is leading the development of new operational concepts, capabilities, and equipment to bolster deterrence and maintain our competitive advantage for the future."

The exercise also showcased the enduring significance of the KC-135R Stratotanker fleet—an integral part of U.S. power projection and Global Mobility. Efforts around the Air Force and within the Utah ANG continue to modernize and enhance tanker operations, ensuring a safe, reliable, and available fleet through 2040 and beyond.

The exercise extends beyond standard aerial refueling operations and tests the KC-135's ability to offload advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles loaded into AIM 120 Missile Coffins.

"Our objective extends beyond traditional roles," said Lt. Col. Jeffery Gould, commander of the 151st Operations Group. "The cargo compartment of the KC-135 is one of the most underutilized spaces in combat operations. Members of the 151 OG validated how KC-135s could carry and offload munitions during combat operations. When looking at the INDOPACOM fight, the capability to carry fuel and weapons needed for a fight improves our position and allows fighter aircraft to get back in the fight quickly. This minor change introduces a new dimension of joint lethality. "

Gould continues, "We're challenging the traditional role of the tanker. By landing with (simulated) munitions on the tanker, we can quickly resupply, allowing the fighter to get back in the fight quickly." During the exercise, F-35s from Hill Air Force Base landed with maximum fuel, quickly rearmed with assistance from the KC-135, and promptly returned to the fray, getting gas from the same tanker that offloaded weapons.

The exercise highlighted advancements in integrating new datalink tools on the KC-135. Utilizing the Real-Time Information in the Cockpit and its beyond-line-of-sight satellite communication capabilities. The KC-135, aided by 109 Air Control Squadron members, provided aggressor aircraft call-outs, allowing the F-35s to prioritize targeting in a disadvantaged environment. 

Members from the UT ARNG provided targeting data for a simulated B-1 strike on a target through the KC-135 to the F-35." We encountered some minor communication gaps with the 19 Special Forces," stated Gould, "but members from the 109 ACS were effective in addressing during the exercise allowing us to work real-time targeting changes.".

"Our KC-135 fleet is the backbone of U.S. power projection, strategic deterrence, and global mobility and will be so for the foreseeable future," said Col. Douglas Foster, commander of 151st Wing. "As we adapt to a dynamic strategic environment, the Air Force is shaping the future force to support resilient forward basing and readiness to transition to a wartime posture. The Utah National Guard's efforts are to help test, demonstrate, and inform some of these concepts, ensuring our capabilities align with the demands of a rapidly changing environment."

During the exercise, the 151st Force Support Squadron - Services Flight and the 2nd Battalion 211th Aviation Regiment achieved a significant milestone by successfully sling-loading a mobile kitchen onto a UH-60 Black Hawk for the first time. This task, typically performed on trucks, highlights their pioneering capability. The feat emphasizes their unwavering dedication to seamless mission support and shows their adaptability in deploying essential facilities, even in challenging environments, ensuring troops are well-fed and mission-ready.

Foster continues, "In the face of evolving threats, Exercise Perses showcases the Utah National Guard's commitment to constant evolution. We're preparing to 'fight tonight' by exercising adaptive base procedures, developing multi-capable Airmen, and optimizing joint/coalition forces to outpace our adversaries. We're accomplishing these goals with our mission partners within the state and local area: Army National Guard assets and F-35s from Hill AFB."

The success of the exercise not only showcased the Airmen's ability to adapt, collaborate, and execute missions effectively in dynamic and unpredictable scenarios but also provided a rich source of insights. The refined procedures ensure the sustained readiness and modernization of the Utah National Guard in the face of continually evolving global threats. The conclusion of Exercise Perses signals not just an end but a new beginning, marked by a heightened level of preparedness and innovation within the Utah Air National Guard.

The Department of the Air Force is committed to defining the most cost-effective combination of investments to mitigate threats to forward tactical air bases. This imperative includes hardening, active defense, deception, proliferation, logistics, communications, and other supporting infrastructure.

Gould concluded, "When our adversaries think of our refueling capability, we want them to see this platform as a convenience store rather than simply a gas station. This innovative approach to refueling operations is designed to present multiple dilemmas to any potential adversary, adding an element of unpredictability."

See more pictures and videos on Exercise Perses here: https://www.dvidshub.net/feature/EXPERSES