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Wing tests mission command methodologies during Exercise Fury Horizon 23

  • Published
  • By Capt. Amanda Ling, 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

The 920th Rescue Wing’s personnel recovery task force construct was executed to conduct a large-scale isolated personnel rescue while spread over more than 200 miles during Exercise Fury Horizon 23 here Sept. 9.

The combat search and rescue exercise is designed to hone the wing’s sustained wartime contingency operations in a contested and operationally degraded environment by engaging with realistic tactical challenges during a rescue mission.

Fury Horizon assessed the wing’s capabilities and tactics with the integration of an A-Staff to conduct the employment of the PRTF with specific application against competitors in the Indo-Pacific region. Separated locations simulated the distance between islands and potentially degraded communications in the Indo-Pacific arena. 

An A-Staff is a standardized organizational structure representing wing functions such as A1, Manpower, Personnel and Services; A2, intelligence; A3, Operations; A4, logistics and Engineering; A5, Plans and Integration; A6, Communications; A7, Installation and Mission Support; A8, Strategic Plans and Programs; A9, Analyses, Assessments and Lessons learned. They plan, track and issue orders to those in the field at decentralized locations. Taskings are created based on desired end state and commander’s intent, explain support available, and communicate that in a clear, concise format. The A -Staff model is a more efficient way to provide support to the field as all functions of the wing are in one location. This expedites planning, coordination and problem solving for rapidly evolving operations. 

“The PRTF’s A-Staff is a centralized command and control that is responsible for informing and implementing the commander’s decisions while communicating with higher headquarters. It takes what higher headquarters is requesting and breaks it down into something useable, then pushes it out the Airmen in the field,” said Lt. Col. Chris Escajeda, 920th RQW PRTF commander.

The PRTF design incorporates force distribution in three configurations based on operational requirements. PRTF-Light is composed of two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, one HC-130J Combat King II aircraft, and two Guardian Angel teams. The PRTF-Medium contains four HH-60Gs, two HC-130Js, and four GA teams. The PRTF-Heavy has eight HH-60Gs plus backup aircraft, five HC-130Js plus backup aircraft, and eight GA teams, along with agile combat support from across wing. 

Two PRTF-Light configurations, including Airmen from the 920th Maintenance Group, were deployed from the main operating base at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, where command and control, support, and an additional PRTF-Light remained. The PRTF-Lights staged at separate initial contingency locations; one at Naval Air Station Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida and the other at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. These forward-deployed assets were tasked to provide rescue support if the need were to arise.  

“The addition of the A -Staff and enhanced communication tools for this iteration of the exercise allows us to execute mission command by utilizing the methodologies of centralized command, distributed control, and decentralized execution over large geographical areas, optimizing the effectiveness of our PRTF construct. This creates trained Airmen, at all levels, that understand how to plan, make decisions, and operate in a decentralized manner based on commander’s intent,” said Col. Jesse Hamilton, 920th RQW commander. 

To ensure mission success, Airmen form the 920th and 943d Security Forces Squadrons secured a perimeter to allow medical transfer from the pararescuemen to the Tactical Medical Augmentation Teams staged on the HC-130s. TMAT is a small, embedded medical team that serves as the intermediate medical care between pararescue operators and the en-route care system.

High frequency and high-performance waveform radios were utilized to enhance communication effectiveness. HF and HPW technology are over the horizon, long-range communication with video, mapping, email and image dissemination capabilities. These tools enabled the operators in the field to send and receive secure and encrypted data over hundreds of miles. The A-Staff coordinated with the distributed locations more robustly than voice communication, enhancing the operational proficiency of the PRTF-L commanders.

Fury Horizon 23 is the first time in the exercise’s three-year history where the wing tested its capabilities of utilizing an A-staff and new, enhanced communications. Command and control was passed from the A-Staff to the PRTF-L commanders. The PRTF-L commanders decided to converge and form a PRTF-Medium providing the support needed to execute the mission and evacuate isolated and injured Airmen from a simulated contested environment.

The 920th RQW is Air Force Reserve Command’s only combat search and rescue wing; whose mission is to plan, lead, and conduct military rescue operations and missions to deny competitors and adversaries exploitation of isolated personnel.