Team McConnell showcases KC-46 capabilities, ACE during Cope North 22

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Remote runways, Pacific skies and international interoperability are on the agenda for Team McConnell KC-46s participating in exercise Cope North 2022.

Cope North is an annual U.S. Pacific Air Forces combined multi-lateral field training exercise and is underway Feb. 2-18, combining air forces from Australia, Japan, and the United States to perform humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, large force employment, and aerial combat training.

“Having the ability to apply the new tactics, techniques, and procedures that we have developed over the past several months has been a career highlight,” said Capt. Jack Rush, 344th Air Refueling Squadron. “We are landing at austere locations with the world’s newest tanker aircraft and applying dispersal techniques that will have strategic impact. The KC-46 may be in its Initial Operational Test and Evaluation process, but you would think otherwise watching yesterday’s Special Refueling Operations at an austere field.” 

Cope North operations are taking place at Andersen Air Force Base and Northwest Field on Guam; the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, including Rota, Saipan, and Tinian; Palau; and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The 2022 edition of Cope North also marks the KC-46’s debut for this annual exercise and showcases what the KC-46 can accomplish for the joint force.

“The excitement level is high, especially with the communications capabilities of the KC-46,” said Capt. Henry Darr, 22d ARW Chief of Agile Combat Employment. “The redundancy of beyond-line-of-sight communication suite as well a much larger air refueling envelope is extremely well received. In addition, the KC-46 can refuel both boom and drogue receivers without reconfiguring the aircraft, which allows considerable flexibility to the mission commanders during execution.” 

Fighter aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Japan Air Self-Defense Force, and Royal Australian Air Force are conducting aerial refueling, close air support, and counter-air missions during this exercise. These training missions will conclude with a large force employment exercise designed to enhance readiness and interoperability among the three countries.

“Working with our Australian partners has been extremely beneficial for all involved. We work closely with the command and control element on the E-7A Wedge Tail and with the KC-30A. The exercise has provided the opportunity to showcase capabilities and practice integrating into mission planning and mutual support during large force employment execution,” said Darr.

That large force combines more than 2,500 U.S. Airmen, Marines, Sailors and 1,000 of their Australian and Japanese counterparts from more than 30 units to operate approximately 130 aircraft. That combined force will fly more than 2,000 sorties across 7 islands and from 10 airfields, giving McConnell Airmen more opportunity to further practice and refine their ACE capabilities.

“McConnell Airmen controlled refueling operations at North West Field to support the first KC-46 operations at an austere field,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Moores, 344th Air Refueling Squadron commander and McConnell’s Cope North Detachment Commander. “This includes blacked out air/land resupply operations. Our fuels management troops were able to embed with the contingency response group to stage the Integrated Combat Turn of U.S. assets and foreign partners. McConnell comm was able to augment North West Field ops to establish line of sight communications with participating aircraft. This is forward edge stuff, and ACE is moving at an accelerated pace.” 

ACE is a fundamental element of all 22nd ARW operations going forward.

“I am so proud of this team” said Col. Nate Vogel, 22d Air Refueling Wing Commander.  “The 22nd ARW is fundamentally redefining what the joint force can expect out of tanker aircrews, aircraft, and support personnel.  Change is tough, but the team is showing the way by boldly executing new capabilities in covert and austere environments in support of both joint and allied partners…all unheard of just 8 months ago.  The 22nd ARW intends to continue seizing the initiative, taking deliberate risk, and leading the way.”