Operation Rapid Forge concluded July 25, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, according to Airman 1st Class Kyle Cope.
The 10-day operation helped ensure U.S. forces’ ability to fulfill the European Deterrence Initiative, a policy to assure and defend NATO allies, while promoting deterrence in an increasingly complex security environment.
Members of the 4th Fighter Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, set up a mobile command and control facility in a simulated austere environment. The 4th FW and the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah, used the C2 node throughout the operation for sorties as the U.S. forces practiced interoperability with NATO partners.
“Rapid Forge is assuring our NATO partners,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Donn Yates, 4th FW commander. “Rapid Forge is developing interoperability between 4th and 5th generation aircraft, F-35A and F-15E, and it is also rapidly projecting airpower into the theater using amazing capabilities that we have, and then being able to test and experiment with command and control, in accordance with a flexible mindset.”
The operation was a collaborative effort between European and U.S. Forces.
“European forces from NATO member nations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland participated alongside Airmen from U.S. Air Forces in Europe, F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th FW and F-35A Lightning II from the 421st EFS,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Maxwell Cover, 421st EFS F-35A pilot.
A key part of Rapid Forge was testing the U.S. Air Force’s ability to operate in an austere environment.
“The U.S. Air Force had been looking to explore its ability to deploy a light and lean force to rapidly stand up a C2 facility anywhere in the world,” Yates said. “This ability prevents U.S. forces from being restricted to a fixed site, while demonstrating we are a credible and capable competitor with any adversary.”
Operating this way has resulted in the concept of the multifunctional Airman, an Airman who is trained to perform a variety of tasks, not just those within their specific specialty.
Cover said the 421st EFS had a team of highly trained maintenance personnel at each training location for Rapid Forge. Airmen were cross-trained into all the different F-35A maintenance functional areas. Instead of having seven to nine personnel to operate all the functional areas, two personnel can do all the F-35A servicing.
The 4th FW also discovered the concept of the multifunctional Airman to be beneficial.
Yates said his base built their team towards the multifunctional Airman concept prior deploying to Rapid Forge. He said for his team, the concept involved training Airmen to fuel jets, marshal aircraft, provide security, and lead troops, among other skills.
This concept makes expeditionary operations like Rapid Forge possible.
“The multifunctional Airman concept is key to operating in an austere environment,” Cover said. “We want to minimize our footprint and change the calculus of where a potential adversary thinks we can operate. To do that, we are going to need to cut down the number of people we need to accomplish the mission and have more of a middleweight fighting force that is highly capable.”
The continued change in strategy and policy during Rapid Forge was intended to strengthen the deterrence effect of U.S. forces.
Cover said it is important the U.S. Air Force maintains a strategy that seeks a continuing advantage to deter aggression and assure our NATO allies. Operation Rapid Forge was built upon a strategy that allows us to promote deterrence of possible aggressors by operating in remote locations with a minimal footprint, while still maintaining the strength of our fighting force.
The lessons and skills learned from Rapid Forge resulted in a successful operation.
“We came here to accomplish three objectives,” Yates said. “Get the team here in a very quick timeline, establish our air expeditionary wing and achieve training, and get everyone home safe. We have accomplished the first two objectives and are working on the third, so I consider Rapid Forge to be a huge success.”