AL-UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar -- The US Air Force on September 16 wrapped up an extensive training exercise that saw participating units conduct rapid deployments in a region extending from Egypt to Kazakhstan.
Units from the air component of the US Central Command (AFCENT) kicked off Operation Agile Spartan III (OAS III) on August 30, executing rapid troop and equipment movement to and from dispersed locations in the region.
The drill was AFCENT's third agile combat employment (ACE) capstone event.
ACE refers to an operational concept in which the Air Force rapidly deploys to an area and conducts dispersed, sustained operations using networks of well-established and austere air bases, pre-positioned equipment and airlift.
"While we frequently operate out of various airfields across the world, this was the first time we've operated out of a dispersed location quite like this," Lt. Col. Erin Brilla said in an AFCENT statement.
"From the challenging weather conditions to the new environment to standing up a base with lighter support than we typically rely upon, OAS III offered us an opportunity to practice a new command-and-control construct and a completely different logistics chain," she said.
This enhanced the ability of US forces "to operate anytime, anywhere", she said.
ACE events conducted over the past year provided the foundation for the units participating in the recently concluded capstone event, which offered them an opportunity to test what they had learned, the statement said.
Building partner relationships
The goal of the exercise was "to determine where we have made progress over the last six months and determine where we need to focus our attention over the next six months", said OAS III lead planner Maj. Chris Bodtke.
"OAS III has been an incredible opportunity to build regional partner relationships," he added.
While previous exercises were constrained to single units or wings, the latest drills created a scenario in which combat operations were tested on multiple fronts, the statement said.
AFCENT personnel "are gaining combat experience every day", said Combined Forces air component commander Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, who flew an F-16 Fighting Falcon as part of OAS III.
"You cannot put a price tag on that kind of preparation," he said.
Lessons learned "directly correlate to more effective operations tomorrow as we learn to leverage our capabilities with the greatest possible efficiency and efficacy", Grynkewich said.
"Using the lessons learned from OAS III, AFCENT will continue to test its combat capabilities and operate alongside our partners in order to support a safe and stable environment," the statement said.
AFCENT held the previous iteration of Operation Agile Spartan in March.
As part of OAS II, US forces conducted rapid deployments, dispersals and maneuvers to austere environments to showcase combat capabilities while working alongside partner nations, according to an April 9 AFCENT statement.
Growing regional threats
The latest drills come as drones manufactured and supplied by Iran flood countries where Iran-backed militias operate, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis have used Iranian drones on many occasions to strike installations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
And in Iraq, Iran-backed militias have used Iranian drones for years to hit international coalition military bases and targets in the Arabian Gulf.
China's massive infrastructure drive to connect its mainland to the Horn of Africa via a network of military and commercial facilities also has raised concerns.
Its sea lines run through major maritime choke points including Bab al-Mandeb strait at the entrance to the Red Sea; the Strait of Malacca, between the Indian and Pacific oceans; the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf; and the Lombok Strait, between the islands of Bali and Indonesia.
Beijing's global infrastructure drive, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or One Belt, One Road (OBOR), continues inland, reaching other parts of the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.
Critics warn that China's ostensibly commercial projects serve a dual purpose, allowing for its rapidly growing military to expand its reach.