Air Force picks homes for expeditionary ‘Air Task Forces’

As part of the Air Force’s sweeping overhaul to prepare for a fight against China, the service will start testing a new deployment model at bases around the country. 

Six bases will host experimental “Air Task Forces”—units that will help the Air Force learn how to deploy wings that have trained together before arriving in theater. These bases include Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Scott AFB in Illinois, Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, Dyess AFB in Texas, Fairchild AFB in Washington, and Seymour-Johnson AFB in North Carolina. 

The first three of these task forces will deploy in October 2025—two to Central Command and one to Indo-Pacific Command—and the next three will replace those units in April 2026, according to a senior Air Force official. 

This model is different from how the Air Force deployed forces to the Middle East. In recent years, the service would crowdsource people and aircraft from units throughout the service, deploying one squadron at a time. Now, the Air Force wants teams that have trained and prepared together and are ready to execute as a “warfighting unit.”  

“After the fall of the Soviet Union, we were able to consolidate a lot of our bases. We were operating in a permissive environment. We were largely uncontested, and so our deployment model reflected that. We disaggregated a lot of the pieces, we built smaller and smaller units, and individual elements could go as kind of a menu of options for the joint force that didn’t involve a big chunk called a wing any longer,” the official told reporters Wednesday. 

But that model won’t work in a bigger fight against China. The service needs teams that have trained together before they meet up in theater, officials say. 

“This is kind of walking us back towards this model that we had during the Cold War, where we know each other, we trained together, we’re building the team in peacetime and in preparation for deployment, and then we go together into this deployed environment when we’re in our available phase and certified and ready to actually execute,” the official said. 

The Air Task Forces will be made up of three layers: a command layer, which is the leadership component, a mission layer, which is the actual aircraft or platforms the unit needs, and a sustainment layer, which includes maintenance support. 

The command layer will bring in about 50 people per base, the official said, and the service will draw the two other layers from either that base or the surrounding area. 

Eventually, the service will move toward a “combat wing” model, which will have all three layers together on one base, so the service won’t have to pull any personnel from the surrounding area. But they’re starting with ATFs to figure out how the model works. 

“This pilot is really intended to help us move forward to a combat wing, which has all those same things, it takes the same layers—your command layer, your mission layer, and your sustainment layer—it now just resides at one place. So all of it is at one location, one base, effectively, that has those three layers, that trains constantly all the time, knows one another, in and throughout their [Air Force Force Generation] cycle. And then if needed to deploy together, they all go together to a rotational or a crisis location. And we want as many of those kinds of deployable combat wings as we can possibly make,” the official said. 

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