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Swamp Fox engineers participate in joint training during airfield repair demonstration

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jim St.Clair
  • 169th Fighter Wing/ Public Affairs

This isn’t your father’s rapid runway repair. Eight Airmen from the 169th Civil Engineer Squadron (169CES) joined Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Navy engineers to participate in an Expedient and Expeditionary Airfield Damage Repair (E-ADR) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration at McEntire Joint National Guard Base (JNGB), South Carolina April 21-28, 2021. The demonstration simulated the rapid repair of a battle damaged runway. Swamp Fox engineers were joined by engineers from the 36th Engineer Squadron, Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, and the 647th Civil Engineer Squadron, Joint Base Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, plus engineers from U.S. Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 133, Gulfport, Mississippi to field test the ‘just enough, just-in-time’ repair capability on a decommissioned runway at McEntire JNGB. The U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s (AFCEC) Expedient and Expeditionary Airfield Damage Repair concept uses local materials and minimal manpower and equipment in order to expedite a temporary runway repair designed to support tactical and mixed load combat operations just long enough until a permanent repair can be made.

Frank Sizemore, E-ADR operations support manager from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command J4 Logistics and Engineering Directorate, stated McEntire JNGB was the top site chosen for this demonstration out of 200 other possible locations. Sizemore explained McEntire JNGB presented three principal advantages. First, it offered operational relevance via a decommissioned runway on an active base with room to conduct explosive operations. Second, the base’s facilities provided the ideal classroom and workspace plus the opportunity for the project’s technical managers at AFCEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center to selectively borrow equipment such as forklifts and cargo handlers. Lastly and most importantly, team Swamp Fox itself was the deciding factor.

“At every opportunity, the Swamp Fox team has been helpful with quick, accurate advice and a ‘can-do’ attitude second to none,” Sizemore said.

What the E-ADR concept offers versus traditional runway repair operations is a light footprint in personnel and materials not to mention cost. Instead of sending in dozens of C-5 heavy transport aircraft loaded with materials, or prepositioning materials at airfields just in case, E-ADR can get the job done using lean logistics and indigenous materials to quickly repair a runway. And while it’s not as intensive as traditional methods, it’s not like filling in a pothole either. Each temporary repair has to withstand the weight and stress from tactical and cargo aircraft potentially dozens of times before a permanent fix can be made.

Eight Swamp Fox engineers participated in the E-ADR demonstration. The majority of the 169CES engineers were heavy equipment operators known as the “Dirt Boys” along with some structures personnel and even someone from the fire department.

E-ADR is a downsized version of RADR (Rapid Airfield Damage Recovery) which has been out for several years according to U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Thomas McTeer, 169CES NCOIC at the demonstration.

“It’s always great to be in on the ground level of a new concept,” McTeer said.

During a visit to the test site, U.S. Air Force Col. Akshai Gandhi, commander of the 169th Fighter Wing, was impressed with what he observed. “[AFCEC] is developing some critical capabilities for our joint force. I’m just thrilled that McEntire was chosen to be the location of this demonstration. This is important in light of the peer-adversary challenges the United States now faces,” Gandhi said.

The week before the demonstration started, demolition experts used C-4 explosive charges to blast 16 kiddie-pool sized craters on the old runway near the pond site. Once the demonstration kicked off, SCANG engineers joined the Air Force and Navy teams to receive some classroom instruction and briefings before they went to work repairing the damage at the field site. Initially the engineer teams worked on various stages of the repair process before being evaluated on completing a repair from start to finish on their own.

The engineer teams used diamond-tipped concrete saws to cut a ten foot by ten foot square around the crater to start the repair. Next the concrete and dirt were removed to a specified depth and then the cavity was filled in and compacted with several layers of rock, sand and gravel.

Then it was hammer time. To test whether or not the soil was hard enough, engineers used a device known as a Clegg hammer to test the soil’s compaction. The soil has to meet a minimum hardness before the concrete can be poured on top in order to support the eventual weight of aircraft taking off and landing. U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Elizabeth Sailer, the 169CES training manager, who also works in the fire department, got to operate the Clegg hammer for some of the soil tests.

“It’s the first time that I’ve used it. We learned about it in class and then came out and did the digging and now we’re at the point we can test it. Essentially all you’re doing is dropping a hammer and testing to see how sturdy the soil is underneath. It’s really easy to use. This is definitely a fun process,” Sailer said.

The final step in the repair is pouring a new concrete cap. Once completed, the repairs were tested with a 30,000 pound load cart which drove repeatedly over the cap. The cart simulated the stress and weight of an F-15 fighter aircraft.

The just-in-time repairs are meant to be just good enough to launch or recover jets in an expeditionary environment. Once the immediacy has passed, U.S. and/or host nation engineers would come back to do a permanent repair, Sizemore explained.

“This was so good of a project that several of us who were in Mississippi on our DFT [Deployment for Training] came back early for this. We didn’t want to miss this opportunity. We need to be doing more of this,” McTeer said.

During the outbrief to SCANG senior leaders, the operations managers from U.S. Indo-Pacific command graded the demonstration as extremely successful and commended the joint engineer teams’ hard work. Due to the success of the E-ADR demonstration at McEntire JNGB, the operations managers requested and were granted approval by Gandhi to return to McEntire JNGB in late August for a final demonstration of the E-ADR concept. The goal of the next demonstration will be to engage operators on the training, tactics, techniques and procedures, as well as integrating with existing unit tools and equipment.