Three KC-10 Extenders flew from Hawaii and Wake Island Airfield to refuel five C-17 Globemaster IIIs carrying over 300 coalition paratroopers across the Pacific Ocean July 13.
Having received the gas they needed, the C-17s continued to Australia to successfully conduct Exercise Ultimate Reach, a strategic airdrop mission. The airdrop displayed US capabilities throughout the region, reassured allies, and improved combat readiness between joint and coalition personnel.
The aerial refueling also supported Exercise Talisman Saber, a month-long training exercise in Australia between US, Canadian, and Australian forces that began once paratroopers landed Down Under. The training focused on improving interoperability and relations between the three allies.
The KC-10s seamlessly refueled various aircraft over the Pacific Ocean supporting Talisman Saber. Some of those aircraft include Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets and Air Force KC-10s, among others.
“This is the bread and butter of what we do in the KC-10 world,” said Lt. Col. Stew Welch, the 9th Air Refueling Squadron commander and the Ultimate Reach tanker mission commander. “We’re practicing mobility, air refueling, and interoperability. This is practice for how we go to war.”
Though participation in such a large and complex exercise may seem like a unique occurrence for the aircraft and their aircrews, in actuality, this is done every day, all over the world.
For members of the 6th and the 9th ARSs at Travis Air Force Base, California, the global mission of the KC-10 is evident each time they step onto the tanker. For the rest of the world, it was on full display at Talisman Saber.
Ultimate Reach was the most prominent piece of the KC-10’s efforts during Talisman Saber. Despite that demand, the crews continued a full schedule of refueling sorties after landing in Australia, allowing other participating aircraft to complete their missions.
While its primary mission is aerial refueling, the KC-10 can also carry up to 75 passengers and nearly 170,000 pounds of cargo. This enables the aircraft to airlift personnel and equipment while refueling supporting aircraft along the way. Though it can go 4,400 miles on its own without refueling, its versatility allows it to mid-air refuel from other KC-10s and extend its range.
“With that endurance ability, we can go up first and come home last and give as much gas as everybody else,” said Maj. Peter Mallow, a 6th ARS pilot. “That’s our role is to go up and bat first and then bat last.”
The tanker’s combined six fuel tanks carry more than 356,000 pounds of fuel in-flight, allowing it to complete missions like Ultimate Reach where over 4,000 pounds of fuel was offloaded in a short time to the five waiting C-17s. The amount is almost twice as much as the KC-135 Stratotanker.
“KC-10s are critical to delivering fuel to our partners,” said Welch. “Not only can we get gas, but we have a huge cargo compartment capability as well. KC-10’s can bring everything mobility represents to the table.”
“The KC-10 is essential to the Air Force because we can transport any piece of cargo, equipment, and personnel to anywhere in the world… any continent, any country,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Cook, a 6th ARS instructor boom operator. “We’re able to refuel those jets who have to go answer the mission whatever it may be, or (engage in) humanitarian response.”
Additionally, the tanker’s ability to switch between using an advanced aerial refueling boom or a hose and drogue centerline refueling system allows it to refuel a variety of US and allied military aircraft interchangeably, as it demonstrated during Talisman Saber.
“KC-10s were able to provide force-extending air refueling,” said Mallow. “We were able to provide the capability to the C-17s that other platforms can’t. Because we can carry so much gas, we have more flexibility simply because we can provide the same amount of gas over multiple receivers. That inherently is the KC-10’s duty.”
“When we refueled the C-17s, it helped them get to their location and drop those paratroopers so the world can see them flying out of the aircraft and see those angels coming down,” said Cook. “It’s a good feeling, knowing the KC-10 is a part of that.”
Ultimate Reach and Talisman Saber highlighted the KC-10 fleet as a fighting force, demonstrating the aircraft’s unique warfighting capabilities over a wide-array of locations, receivers, and flying patterns.
“Not only does this kind of exercise demonstrate what we can do, it demonstrates how we do it,” said Welch. “Our own interoperability — not just with the Air Force and the Army but with our coalition partners as well — sends a great message to our allies and those who are not our allies that we can get troops on the ground where and when we please.”
The tankers’ performance during the exercise proved its unwavering support to combatant commanders and allies. It showed versatility in meeting unique mission requirements and reassured people around the world that the Air Force will always have a presence in the sky.
“Maybe one of those kids seeing a paratrooper come down will take an interest and maybe become the next Technical Sergeant Cook,” mused Cook.