History was made during Exercise Agile Chariot as an MC-130J Commando II, an MQ-9 Reaper, two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and two MH-6 Little Birds landed on Highways 287 and 789 April 30 and May 2, 2023, respectively. Exercise Agile Chariot was an Air Force Special Operations Command-led event focused on Agile Combat Employment and involving personnel and assets with the Total Force. During the exercise, participating units, in coordination with federal, state and local agencies, landed an MC-130J Commando II, an MQ-9 Reaper, and two A-10 Warthogs on Wyoming Highway 287, while conducting a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), Integrated Combat Turnarounds (ICT) and taking off from the highway. Agile Chariot accomplished major milestones for our AFSOC community—all of which lend credence to our pathfinding nature—including the first-ever landing of an MQ-9 on a highway, an MC-130J landing on a highway and simultaneously conducting FARP and ICTs with A-10s, and special tactics Airmen establishing and securing a 30,000-foot usable runway on a public highway.
The 15th Special Operations Squadron also landed an MC-130J Commando II with two MH-6 Little Birds onto Wyoming Highway 789, conducting a time-sensitive, personnel recovery mission with Airmen from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron. Airmen with the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron secured landing zones and operated the highways as usable runways during both of the exercise’s major events. In recent years, AFSOC and Total Force organizations have diligently trained ACE concepts. Examples include A-10s and C-146As landing on Michigan’s highway M-28, C-146As taking off and landing on Latvian highways, and the MC-130J landing on a highway in Sweden. Agile Chariot, however, was unprecedented in terms of its scope as more aircraft participated in highway landings than ever before.
Exercise Agile Chariot tested the concept of Agile Combat Employment (ACE)—an operational scheme of maneuver executed within threat timelines to enhance survivability while generating combat power—through two demonstrations, as well as Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), Integrated Combat Turnarounds and the infiltration and exfiltration of Air Force Special Operations (AFSOC) personnel with US Army Special Ops Aviation Command (USASOAC). Landing the MQ-9 Reaper on a highway has opened the door for future capabilities. The event offered an ideal venue to continue assessing the effectiveness for how the weapons system can be used in today’s changing landscape for combat operations. The exercise also sought to operationalize ACE across four key areas: codifying repeatable and understandable processes; forces that are organized, trained and equipped appropriately; theaters postured with the necessary equipment, assets and host nation agreements; and joint service and partner nation integration/interoperability.
The exercise was coordinated with various whole-of-government agencies in Wyoming and supported by both the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming National Guard. Agencies involved included the Federal Aviation Agency, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, National Weather Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wyoming U.S. Forestry, Wind River Inter-Tribe Council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Participating units include the 1st Special Operations Wing from Hurlburt Field, Florida, flying MC-130J Commando IIs and leading Exercise Agile Chariot; the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, flying two A-10 Thunderbolts; the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, flying MH-6M Little Birds; the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron from Louisville International Airport, Kentucky, establishing and securing the landing zone and controlling the airspace; the 2nd Special Operations Squadron, 919th Special Operations Wing from Duke Field, Florida, landing the MQ-9 Reaper; and the 65th Special Operations Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Florida, controlling the take off and return flight for the unmanned aerial vehicle.