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

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Perez and 419th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
  • 151st Wing and 419th Fighter Wing

Agile Combat Employment has emerged as a pivotal Air Force operating concept in today's evolving threat environment. The 419th Fighter Wing supported the joint Exercise Perses to test its ability to employ ACE during its monthly Unit Training Assembly on Feb. 3, 2024, at various military installations across Utah. The Utah Air and Army National Guard initiated the exercise to help train Airmen and joint forces, including six Army and Air National Guard units, in planning and executing effective missions. Exercise Perses demonstrated the state's commitment to innovative military strategies and readiness to face evolving threats.

ACE enhances the flexibility of joint and coalition commanders to move forces fluidly within and across theaters of operation. Exercise Perses challenged Utah Air National Guard, Utah Army National Guard, and 419th Fighter Wing participants to employ airpower in a simulated conflict scenario with a peer adversary. This intentional design aimed to test and refine procedures, ultimately increasing the lethality of the combined forces.

"As we engage in Great Power Competition, it is crucial that we innovate and optimize our force,” said Maj. Gen. Dan Boyack, Utah's Adjutant General. “Conflict against China will be very different from any battle we've ever had.”

The Utah ANG 151st Wing, which primarily operates the KC-135R Stratotanker, was the focal point around which joint partners operated. This included aerial refueling with F-35A Lightning II fighter jets from the 419th Fighter Wing, the movement of simulated munitions in the cargo bay of the KC-135, sling-loading a mobile kitchen onto a UH-60 Black Hawk, and employment of cross-communication technologies between aircraft and ground forces.

The exercise also showcased the enduring significance of the KC-135R Stratotanker fleet, an integral part of U.S. power projection. 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 extended beyond standard aerial refueling operations and tested the KC-135's ability to offload advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles loaded into AIM 120 Missile Coffins.

In the past, C-130 Hercules, C-5 Galaxy, and C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft have typically been used as the primary method of transportation for personnel, equipment, and munitions. These aircraft have the advantage of large cargo doors and ramps, which allow loading vehicles to drive on and off easily. During Exercise Perses, technicians and aircrew sought to test their ability to transport munitions on a KC-135, which lacks these capabilities.

Upon arrival, Maintainers from 419th Fighter Wing’s Maintenance Group worked with their loadmasters from the 67th Aerial Port Squadron to unload the AIM 120 Missile Coffin that was placed earlier in the day. It was lifted through the smaller cargo door high above ground on the side of the fuselage. As loading equipment backed away from the aircraft, it signaled the validation that it could be done safely.

"The cargo compartment of the KC-135 is one of the most underutilized spaces in combat operations,” Gould said. “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.”

As the exercise continued, six F-35s from Hill Air Force Base landed with maximum fuel, quickly rearmed with assistance from the KC-135, and promptly returned to the air, getting gas from the same tanker that offloaded weapons.

"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,” said Lt. Col. Jeffery Gould, commander of the 151st Operations Group. “This innovative approach to refueling operations is designed to present multiple dilemmas to any potential adversary, adding an element of unpredictability."

Exercise Perses not only showcased the Airmen's ability to adapt, collaborate, and execute missions but also provided a rich source of insights. The refined procedures help ensure sustained readiness and modernization of the Utah National Guard in the face of continually evolving global threats. The conclusion of Exercise Perses signals a heightened level of preparedness and innovation within the Utah Air National Guard and its joint partners like the 419th Fighter Wing.