Exercise WestPac Rumrunner – the second iteration

Forward area refueling point Airmen from the 353rd Special Operations Group prepare an MC-130J Commando II for FARP operations during Exercise Westpac Rumrunner, July 31, 2020, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The FARP mission supports contingency and exercise operations to refuel aircraft and equipment in austere locations where typical air-to-air refueling or established refueling stations are not available. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)
Forward area refueling point Airmen from the 353rd Special Operations Group prepare an MC-130J Commando II for FARP operations during Exercise Westpac Rumrunner, July 31, 2020, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The FARP mission supports contingency and exercise operations to refuel aircraft and equipment in austere locations where typical air-to-air refueling or established refueling stations are not available. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Micaiah Anthony)

Exercise WestPac Rumrunner – the second iteration

by Staff Sgt. Jessica H. Smith
Kadena Air Base

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- The 18th Wing hosted the second iteration of Exercise WestPac Rumrunner – an exercise designed to train and improve capabilities and joint interoperability using agile combat employment (ACE) concepts – July 31, 2020, at Kadena Air Base.

The exercise allows for the United States Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force to meet up, train, and fight as a cohesive unit all in one day’s time. WestPac Rumrunner enables units and assets currently stationed or TDY in the Western Pacific area of responsibility to train together without the typical demands of a TDY.

“Rumrunner was designed to allow bases and players to meet up and fight without the logistics required for multi-day TDYs,” explained Capt. Kalvin Day, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron E-3 senior director. “The idea was to cut down the cost and be able to conduct this training at a moment’s notice … Just meet up for a single fight and then go home or stay for one night instead of a whole week.”

For the second iteration, Kadena provided the perfect training environment for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Between the airspace and the base already being integrated with combat search and rescue, tankers, fighters and E-3s, the 18th Wing confidently welcomed more units and assets.

The day-long exercise hailed P-8s, F-16s and C-130Js; some coming all the way from Yokota and Misawa – providing a number of training opportunities from the planning, to the completion of the exercise.

Most bases spend their days employing operations with whatever assets are on location, not allowing them to integrate and practice tactics with multiple assets outside of their own, which is what makes WestPac Rumrunner so valuable.

“This exercise represents an evolution in how the 18th Wing trains with joint partners,” said Capt. Scott Addy, 18th Operations Group standardization and evaluation F-15C branch and exercise director for Exercise WestPac Rumrunner. “Rumrunner is a unique exercise because it was a grassroots effort to strengthen Western Pacific joint forces as a cohesive fighting force capable of transiting vast distances, entering the same battlespace from dispersed locations and being capable to fight while remaining agile, flexible, autonomous, and lethal.”

Capt. Adam Engelhardt, 13th Fighter Squadron lead planner for Exercise WestPac Rumrunner from Misawa Air Base, Japan, feels the success of the exercise speaks volumes for all involved.

“We typically don’t plan for large force exercises at a distance; we typically all gather together in one location, plan and execute the mission,” he explained. “For this exercise, we completed all the planning through teleconferencing and phone calls – it’s a testament to the professionalism of the participating forces to be able to execute an event like this so seamlessly.”

Although the exercise may seem all about Air Force training, other branches had important roles as well.

The Navy served as the primary maritime strike component of the mission and was able to complete the entire surface warfare kill chain and was critical to mission success, explained Day, all while the Air Force provided over-watch and air defense for the P-8 and the personnel recovery assets.

While the Army didn’t participate in the tactical aspect of the mission, the large exercise allowed them to test their systems integration.

“We’re really far away here … There’s no one branch at this point that can do all the operations that we need to do from this base by themselves, so we’re going to be integrating with all of the forces that we have available here,” Day explained. “We’re going to need those guys as well as the Air Force.”

As Pacific Air Force looks to validate new ways to deploy and maneuver assets in order to operate in contested environments, ACE-related operations directly support the National Defense Strategy by being strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable, Addy said.

“The goal of Rumrunner is to utilize ACE concepts to ensure forward-deployed forces in the Indo-Pacific are ready to protect and defend partners, allies and U.S. interests at a moment’s notice,” he explained.

Despite obstacles presented world-wide by COVID-19, the joint team was still able to accomplish their desired training through the exercise.

“This exercise tested our ability to project air power across a vast distance and defend different aircraft performing multiple mission sets while mitigating the risks of COVID-19,” Engelhardt said. “Projecting combat air power has its own set of challenges and having the opportunity to practice that capability is crucial in enhancing our agile combat employment skills.”

With the changing environment of warfare, combat interoperability is as important as ever.

“As war is getting much faster than it used to be, you need to be able to mobilize at a moment’s notice and execute quickly, and also do that from dispersed locations,” Day stated. “Getting everybody together and then dispersing again is a critical test of that capability.”

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