ACE trailer undergoes operational tests and development with Total Force

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jason Sanchez
  • 144th Fighter Wing

Airmen from 144th Fighter Wing continued operational tests of an Agile Combat Employment trailer, June 9, 2022, at the Fresno Air National Guard Base, California. The ACE trailer is a one-of-a-kind operational prototype that enables a small team of Airmen to launch and recover fighter jets from an austere location.

It was only the second operational use of the basing trailer thus far to launch and recover fighter jets. The trailer served as the hub for all maintenance operations.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Sassano, 144th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintenance officer, said, “Our tools and our equipment—our servicing items—are all coming out of the trailer. We’re relying less and less, each iteration we do, on our (consolidated tool kits) and our home station supplies.”

The 144th FW plans to utilize the trailer weekly while steadily incorporating increasing levels of operational capabilities of the trailer as time goes on. The ultimate goal is to use the trailer and all its equipment independently to launch and recover fighter jets without relying on base infrastructure or equipment.

Technical Sgt. Matthew Steht and Master Sgt. Cory Snyder, 144th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs, first developed the idea for the ACE trailer because they felt that previously established operational procedures did not meet the intent of Agile Combat Employment, which is to deploy operational units and have them combat ready within threat timelines.

“This whole idea came about because there was a validated need for rapid deployment of F-15s and other airframes like it,” said Steht. “(The trailer) gives us the tools and resources to quickly get on the road with our fighter assets. It allows us to continue to be lethal and lightweight so that we can move quickly anywhere we need to go.”

In addition to the weekly operational tests that are planned by the 144th FW, the trailer is demonstrating its ability to travel air within the next few weeks to serve as an operational base for fighter jets.

Through June 13-17, 2022, the trailer is serving as a base of operations for maintainers out of the 57th Maintenance Group, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to launch and recover F-15E Strike Eagles from the 57th Fighter Wing during a sea denial training exercise at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. The exercise includes units from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corp, and U.S. Air Force in addition to personnel from the 144th FW.

While using the trailer for their maintenance tools and servicing items, the 57th MXG maintainers will also be able to use workstations and have access to the non-classified side of the Air Force internet network.

While at the exercise in MCAS Miramar, Airmen from the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group, Nellis AFB, will be working on developing written Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for the ACE trailer. They will observe how the 57th MXG maintainers use the trailer, including best uses.

“They are helping us develop TTPs,” said Sassano. “The Strike Eagles are going to operate out of the trailer—from setting up to loading the aircraft, deploying the actual trailer—we’re going to take that and put it into writing.”

Later in the month, the 144th FW will then lead its own operational training mission to further demonstrate the trailer’s proof of concept in a truly austere environment. A C-5 Super Galaxy from the 22nd Airlift Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., will provide airlift for the ACE truck and trailer to San Clemente Island off the coast of southern California, and the 144th FW will further demonstrate using the trailer as an adaptive base of operations.

In San Clemente, a small team of Airmen from the 921st and 821st Contingency Response squadrons, Travis AFB, will also be joining the Airmen from the 144th FW and 22nd AS. 
“They set up bases wherever they need to, and now they are leaning toward this ACE concept,” said Sassano. “They’re going to help us set up the base, and we’re going to fly and operate.”

Steht explained that San Clemente was chosen because they want to demonstrate the ACE trailer’s ability to operate in a truly austere location without the infrastructure that a base provides.

“We are going out of our way to show that our ACE concept really works,” said Steht. “We have the utmost confidence in the ACE trailer’s ability to support the mission. That’s why we are really traveling to an island without the ability to reach back to Air Force infrastructure.”

Because there are no refueling capabilities on the island, 6,000 gallons of fuel will be defueled from the C-5. The C-5 will then depart for its home station and the F-15s will receive that fuel for their return flights back to their home station in Fresno.

The ACE trailer concept was first proposed in 2019 at the Air Warfare Symposium Spark Tank competition by Master Sgt. Cory Snyder and Tech Sgt. Matthew Steht, where it won for Air Combat Command at the Major Command level.

“It has definitely come a long way, and much more in the last year when the trailer actually showed up; everyone got excited,” said Steht.

Two additional assets are still in the works for the trailer, including installing classified Air Force internet access for the Deployed Debrief Facility and a specially-designed AGE cart to provide electric power, hydraulic power, and compressed air to the aircraft. The only component that has not yet been engineered into the design is a nitrogen cart, but plans are already in progress to add it to the AGE cart once the AGE cart is delivered to the 144th FW.

“The trailer includes living quarters for twelve individuals, office space, tools, hazmat, and communications equipment,” said Steht. “We can talk to aircraft 150 miles out and it even has satellite capabilities.” “Soon, it will have a functioning Deployed Debriefing Facility with secret-level security. It is a completely self-contained fighter wing in a box.”

In 2020, the contract was awarded to build the trailer and was primarily funded through AFWERX, an innovation arm of the Department of the Air Force. In September 2021, the 144th FW received delivery of the trailer. Earlier this year, the unit got the truck, which includes the DDF, to complete the tractor-trailer combination.