By Lt. Col. Ian Phillips, 920th Rescue Wing.
After two years of assessment and validation the 920th Rescue Wing has developed an enhanced Personnel Recovery Task Force (PRTF) structure along with overhauled tactics, techniques, and procedures with a specific design to deny competitors exploitation of isolated personnel.
The structure distributes forces in light, medium, and heavy configurations that are able to maneuver and sustain organically throughout all operating environments. In lockstep with the Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment applications, the new PRTF structure utilizes multi-capable Airmen from across the wing to provide both offensive and defensive capabilities during personnel recovery, contingency location establishment, and intra-theater airlift operations.
Historically personnel recovery has been piecemeal sourced with right-sized solutions due to traditional force structure models, which does not always present the right forces for the tasking.
“More than 40 years of doing Air Force rescue the same way offers combatant commanders no tactical advantage over competitors. The PRTF is an idea whose time has come. It is powerful, agile, and presents stand-alone personnel recovery, kinetic agile combat employment, and kinetic intra-theater airlift options in contested maritime and jungle environments,” said Col. John Dobbin, 920th Rescue Wing commander.
The new design incorporates force distribution in three configurations based on operational requirements. PRTF-Light is composed of two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, one HC-130J Combat King II aircraft, and two Guardian Angel (GA) teams. The PRTF-Medium will contain four HH-60Gs, two HC-130Js, and four GA teams. The PRTF-Heavy will have eight HH-60Gs plus backup aircraft, five HC-130Js plus backup aircraft, and eight GA teams.
Force projection of the PRTF is by a small, cross-trained team of wing maintenance and mission sustainment specialists that deploy to provide self-sustainment and autonomous operation and support. This ACE element enables organic tactical communications, security, logistics, and aircraft maintenance with a mindset that anticipates the needs of operations rather than reacts to them.
The PRTF relies on strategic airlift for delivery into theater but ongoing tests pursue an autonomous PRTF force projection through transport of HH-60G/W helicopters inside the wing’s HC-130Js. Until such time, the wing garners efficiencies in their multicapable Airmen applications which reduce the strategic air requirements to move into a theater of operations from previous years.
The wing refined the new structure through its annual wing training plan. Their HORIZON series of exercises are conducted at the squadron, group, and wing levels throughout the year involving deployment scenarios that culminate in the annual FURY HORIZON and DISTANT HORIZON exercises that take place around the world. This has validated the tactics, techniques, and procedures as a successful way to perform combat rescue.
“Our focus is on the Indo-Pacific region which offers incredible opportunity and challenge for our wing’s special warfare Airmen and special purpose aircraft. This region necessitates our new PRTF-Heavy capability to conduct a multilateral rescue assault on a defended point of incident. A point of incident that may be more than 300 isolated Airmen at an initial or temporary contingency location, isolated and dispersed elements, or individuals of the Air Force and joint warfighters as well as mass casualties at sea,” said Dobbin.
The PRTF -light, -medium, and -heavy structure aligns wing resources to the Air Force Chief of Staff’s lead wing framework and is sustainable across the total force when risk-based priorities determine what combatant command request for forces are highest priority. The PRTF self-solves resource allocation and balance challenges due to its scalable application, internal command and control, and using low-technology capabilities to counter high-end technology adversaries.
“It is scalable and flexible to give more options to a combatant commander for broad spectrum personnel recovery,” said Lt. Col. John Lowe, 920th RQW Fusion Cell chief.
This year the wing deployed the PRTF-Medium to an Indo-Pacific exercise where the wing tested Joint All-Domain Command and Control, which integrated the wing with joint and international partners to execute deliberate and immediate combat rescue missions.
The 920th RQW is a combined arms team of special mission personnel and aircraft whose mission is to plan, lead, and conduct military rescue operations and missions to deny competitors and adversaries exploitation of isolated personnel.
This story by Lt. Col. Ian Phillips was first published by the 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs office on April 14, 2022. Posted by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. DVIDS content is in the public domain.
Photo: CH-47F Chinook from Task Force Brawler participates in Personnel Recovery exercise with USAF Guardian Angel team at Bagram AF. (Photo by USAF Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook, 27 Feb 2018).