Ready Tiger 24-1 tests CSAR operational reach

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Courtney Sebastianelli
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

In the hazy hours of dusk, a 10-man pararescue team jumps from an HC-130J Combat King II into the unknown. Their objective is to retrieve an isolated Airman behind enemy lines and render lifesaving medical care - all while evading detection and capture. 

As the world shifts and conflict looms in different geographic locations around the world, rescue experts must have the flexibility to pick up and respond at a moment's notice … no matter how far from their beddown location to the unlucky Airman.

For the Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) community, navigating the tyranny of distance poses unique challenges that demand meticulous planning. Recognizing the crucial role of operational reach is a cornerstone of Agile Combat Employment, a principle rigorously tested during Exercise Ready Tiger 24-1.

“This exercise is showcasing the inherent agility that is embedded in the identity of Rescue Airmen and their ability to adapt and overcome challenges such as increased distance of rescue forces to isolated personnel,” said Capt. Dalton Choquette, exercise forward operating site and Personnel Recovery Task Force commander.  “The implementation of the Multi-Capable Airmen concept is something our agile force has been refining for decades to provide combat search and rescue capabilities in austere environments at a moment’s notice.  The multi-capable approach enables me as a leader to accomplish the day-to-day tasks of projecting rescue capabilities across the area of responsibility with a limited footprint and highly mobile force.”

The challenge of distance looms large in the realm of personnel recovery since every second counts when saving lives. Isolated personnel pose significant risks to the U.S., encompassing not only the potential loss of life and the investment in pilot training, but also the possibility of adversaries exploiting captured Airmen for political gain through propaganda.

The Air Force is modernizing its combat approach by reoptimizing for great power competition. The doctrine explains relying on large, static established airfields is an ineffective strategy for the modern battlefield.  Critical survivability for the force depends on being spread out and having the ability to relocate expeditiously. Establishing forward operating sites and contingency locations ensures a more effective fighting force that is ready to respond with precision and speed.  

That reorganization affects how rescue beddowns their forces, too. Recognizing the importance of responding quickly and being physically closer requires mobility and agility. 

“Speaking from an HC-130 aircrew perspective, being mobile is an inherent capability of our aircraft,” said Capt. Jonathan Romanko, 71st Rescue Squadron pilot. “The superior austere airfield capability, the general lack of ground equipment needed for standard operation, the ability to carry our own parts and supporting equipment/personnel, and the self-sufficiency of crews in planning make us a one-stop-shop for the wing when looking to enable operations from a CL.”

Regardless of distance, mission success hinges not only on mobility and flexibility but also on meticulous preparation and constant training.

“For Ready Tiger, we are infilling and exfilling in a variety of methods that are driven by the challenge of distance the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command environment presents,” said 1st Lt. Collin Dwornicki, 38th Rescue Squadron mission generation force element commander. “We train to be agnostic to a specific frame. We have the capability to utilize ground, maritime and air movement to ensure full coverage of a near-peer environment. This allows us to flow through a variety of complex mission sets and support joint force taskings.”

Addressing the logistical complexities of INDOPACOM scenarios helps build muscle memory for any future tasking.

“Our biggest takeaway from this exercise is the shift of how personnel recovery techniques and tactics adapt to the Pacific,” Dwornicki said. “Countering the capability of our adversaries and mitigating the increased risk of a team operating by themselves for an extended period with a patient until they could get extracted at a later time is necessary to be able to effectively deploy anytime.”

As CSAR teams continue to adapt and modernize, their commitment to ensuring no one is left behind remains unwavering, even in the face of challenging distances. By remaining vigilant, agile, and well-prepared, CSAR teams stand ready to deploy at a moment's notice, embodying the Rescue motto, “These Things We Do That Others May Live.”