Improving Aerial Refueling: Reserve Citizen Airmen critical to success of international advisory group

Citizen Airman/Aug. 2017 -- The transferring of aviation fuel from one military aircraft to another during flight is an extremely important mission for Air Force Reserve Command. Not only does the command have eight air refueling wings and several additional air refueling squadrons constantly offloading fuel to planes and helicopters around the world, but almost all Reserve aircraft receive fuel from tankers from time to time to complete their assigned duties.

That’s why Air Force Reserve Citizen Airmen are playing a vital role in an organization designed to unite the global aerial refueling community.

The Aerial Refueling Systems Advisory Group is a team of military and industry representatives from 20 nations with a mission of advancing aerial refueling around the world. ARSAG serves as the U.S. Joint Standardization Board, chartered by the Department of Defense, for all matters pertaining to aerial refueling systems.

The art of aerial refueling has been around for nearly 100 years, and ARSAG has been working to improve the process for the last 39 of those years.

Engineer and aerial refueling pioneer Dexter Kalt founded ARSAG in 1978 as a Strategic Air Command organization. It has since grown to include industry and military experts from around the world. Kalt still serves as ARSAG’s executive director.

Maj. Gen. Ken Lewis, AFRC’s director of air, space and information operations, has been involved with ARSAG since 2001. He currently serves as the military advisor to the ARSAG board of directors.

“The thing I like about ARSAG is it brings together the top aerial refueling engineers and experts from around the world, and it’s an organization where people roll up their sleeves and get a lot of work done,” Lewis said. “ARSAG is focused on innovation and agility, and our working groups get together throughout the year and tackle all of the issues critical to aerial refueling.”

Many of those issues revolve around interoperability and standardization.

“A lot of what we do at ARSAG involves making sure different aircraft from different services and different countries are able to interact with each other and successfully complete aerial refueling procedures,” the general said.

According to the ARSAG website, while aircraft refueling booms can be different in size and shape, the boom diameter, nozzles and receptacles are all built to common sets of specifications that are examined and shaped by the advisory group.

ARSAG also works to ensure that aircrew procedures for all receivers and tankers are standardized to make sure everyone understands and expects the same techniques, radio calls, emergency processes and formations.

“It’s critical that we and all of our partner nations are playing off of the same sheet of music when it comes to aerial refueling,” Lewis said. “ARSAG is the organization that makes sure that happens.”

Col. Greg Gilmour, commander of the Reserve’s 315th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, is the chairman of ARSAG’s operations panel, a position he has held for the past five years. Before assuming command of the 315th in April 2015, Gilmour served as commander of the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.

Having served as both an airlift wing and air refueling wing commander and having flown countless hours in both the KC-135 Stratotanker and C-17 Globemaster III, Gilmour brings a wealth of both tanker and receiver experience to his position with ARSAG.

“It’s people like Colonel Gilmour who make ARSAG such an effective organization,” Lewis said. “The experience and expertise he brings to the table are invaluable.”

Working with ARSAG, Gilmour has had a hand in writing tanker operating procedures and is heavily involved in making sure the KC-46A Pegasus fits well into the current aerial refueling landscape.

The KC-46 is the U.S. Air Force’s newest aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft, developed by Boeing from its 767 jet airliner. The Pegasus is expected to begin arriving at U.S. Air Force bases in 2019.

“The KC-46 is going to be a game changer,” Gilmour said. “And ARSAG is working hard to make sure it will mesh well with the international air refueling community.”

ARSAG prides itself on fostering teamwork between the aviation industry and coalition air forces.

“It may be the only place you see Boeing, Airbus and system hardware engineers working side by side with military technical experts to ensure the products they produce work for the allied war fighters,” the ARSAG website said.

Lt. Col. Ed Schierberl, a Reservist who serves as operations officer for the 932nd Operations Support Flight, a unit of the 932nd AW at Scott AFB, Illinois, has been involved with ARSAG since February 2012. He joined the organization after deploying in support of Operation Unified Protector in 2011.

Unified Protector was a NATO operation enforcing United Nations Security Council resolutions concerning the Libyan civil war. These resolutions imposed sanctions on key members of the Muammar Gaddafi government and authorized NATO to implement an arms embargo and a no-fly zone, and to use all means necessary, short of foreign occupation, to protect Libyan civilians and civilian-populated areas.

“During my 179-day deployment, I witnessed firsthand what has since been called the most challenging air-to-air refueling mission ever in NATO,” Schierberl said.

“We had 14 variants of tankers from nine countries and supported 27 variants of receivers from 16 countries,” he said. “Of the 27 variants of receivers, there were 48 different configurations, and only 14 of those types of receivers had zero restrictions. Tankers accounted for 25 percent of all OUP sorties, so we had to plan around more than 250 restrictions and caveats, many of which did not have to exist.

“Our team did an outstanding job working out many problems while meeting CFACC (combined forces air component commander) priorities and accomplishing the mission, but there were things that needed a strategic and long-term focus. Over the last six years since OUP, ARSAG has been working with the DOD, our NATO allies and close international partners to resolve many of the issues our team dealt with.”

Schierberl said ARSAG is using lessons learned from operations like Unified Protector to prepare for the KC-46 and other new tanker platforms, like the KC-30, the Royal Australian air force’s new air refueler.

“The time to work through these challenges is now while we are still in acquisition — before operational capability — and not in the middle of a conflict,” the colonel said.

Reserve Citizen Airmen like Lewis, Gilmour and Schierberl bring years of refueling experience to the advisory group.

“For well over a decade, AFRC has provided a voice to ARSAG that has allowed for continuity and overlap of the representative members that is unsurpassed by any other organization involved in ARSAG,” Schierberl said. “Based on AFRC’s ability to retain experience, our involvement brings the last 20 to 25+ years of experience to the table and not the last five to 10 years.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. John B. Sams Jr., ARSAG’s board chairman and chief executive officer, said Air Force Reservists are vital to the success of ARSAG.

“With more than 50 percent of Air Mobility Command’s refueling capability in the air reserve component and with refueling being one of the biggest mission sets for the Air Force Reserve, it’s critical that AFRC has a place at the ARSAG table,” Sams said. “Citizen Airmen have stepped up and contributed to ARSAG for years, and I am thankful for the work they have done in bringing together the global aerial refueling community.”