Earlier in 2011, a military aircraft went down in Afghanistan and the aircrew evaded through enemy terrain. A Fairchild KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft was nearby conducting operations and was the first to receive communications from the downed survivors.
Once they positively authenticated the survivors, the Fairchild crew began to act as the on-scene commander, or OSC, expediting the successful rescue.
When people think of rescues on the battlefield, they normally don't associate KC-135s with having OSC capabilities.
About six months ago, members from Fairchild AFB's 92nd Operations Support Squadron, 66th Training Support Squadron, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron, 93rd ARS and 190th Fighter Squadron, from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, began to develop training scenarios like these.
An exercise of this magnitude culminated Sept. 1 when Fairchild completed the first-ever OSC exercise for KC-135s in Air Mobility Command.
The OSC is the aircraft designated to coordinate rescue efforts at the rescue site and acts as the initial responder. Because they are overhead, the OSC has the best situational awareness and assumes responsibilities of survivors until they reach safety.
This exercise took place in Ione, Wash., in a heavily forested area off the beaten path -- roughly two hours north of Fairchild AFB. After reaching the destination, the crew consisting of a pilot, co-pilot and boom operator were given 10 seconds to egress from a simulated plane crash over enemy territory.
Once the downed crew grabbed their survival gear they, along with the KC-135 aircrew, were expected to accomplish specific objectives during the exercise. The objectives were to complete the five phases of evasion. The KC-135 crew objectives were to communicate with the survivor; transfer duties to the A-10 Thunderbolt and air space awareness.
"The exercise was another way to validate to our aircrew that the training we provide really does work," said Staff Sgt Justin Reiter, 92nd OSS safety observer.
The crew initially set up communication with a mock Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) from Fairchild who gave the crew specific instructions on the rally points they needed to hit. Navigating the terrain using maps and compasses, the downed crew was directed to transmit a blind radio call.
The KC-135 picked up the radio transmission from the crew and was able to gather critical information and pinpoint their position both visually and electronically. On-Scene Commander duties began immediately and initial checklists were executed, while JPRA gave the crew specific instructions on the rally points they needed to hit.
"This is a role that KC-135s are rarely used for, but fully capable of," said Capt Dana Stockton, 92nd ARS pilot.
The KC-135 transferred the critical information about the survivors to the A-10, which is trained in close-air support and personnel recovery. This greatly reduced the amount of time required to accomplish the rescue. The A-10 continued the last phase of the exercise with the KC-135 air refueling support flying directly overhead.
"We see the immediate benefit of this training and the capabilities that Fairchild has," said Capt James Blech, 93rd ARS pilot. "We hope to set the standard for KC-135 Combat Search and Rescue preparedness."
by Tech. Sgt. J.T. May III
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
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