After 16 years, the Air Force is caging the BEAST.
For more than a decade and a half, future Airmen in Basic Military Training have undergone Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, a four-day-long exercise meant to simulate deployments, particularly those in the Middle East that defined military service throughout the early 2000s.
But with the Air Force increasingly focusing on competition with China and the operational concept of agile combat employment, BMT leaders decided an overhaul was needed.
Now, the service is implementing a new training exercise, dubbed Primary Agile Combat Employment Range, Forward Operations Readiness Generation Exercise, or PACER FORGE.
Instead of four days, the exercise will last 36 hours, and trainees will be split into smaller, dispersed teams that are tested with scenarios “built to provide flexibility, promote information seeking, teamwork, decision-making and are results focused,” according to an Air Force release.
“The move toward PACER FORGE is not just a renaming or re-branding of BEAST,” Col. Jeff Pixley, commander of the 737th Training Group, said in the release. “This was a year-long effort to reimagine BEAST.”
The Air Force has been simulating deployments for decades now. In 1999, the service introduced “Warrior Week” into BMT, complete with a tent city, improvised airstrip, and a focus on things such as humanitarian deployments, contingency operations, and peacekeeping.
In 2006, Warrior Week became BEAST, which featured hundreds of trainees training in an austere but relatively large encampment, facing the sorts of challenges that were commonplace in Middle East deployments—incoming mortar rounds, complex attacks, roadside bombs, car bombs, and unexploded ordnance.
The tactical course formed the highlight of BEAST, where trainees low-crawled to wooden barriers, charged the enemy with rifles, made spur-of-the-moment ethical decisions, and high-crawled up a steep, sandy hill as they dodged “sniper fire.”
PACER FORGE will still have scenarios for trainees, but for now, the service isn’t detailing exactly what those are.
“We want it to be something trainees consider so important and formative that they don’t spoil it for those that follow,” Pixley said.
Pixley did offer some clues, however, in emphasizing that the scenarios will be aimed at developing “multi-capable Airmen” while being “physically demanding and based on real-world operations.”
Multi-capable Airmen has become the Air Force’s term to describe Airmen who can practice agile combat employment—the idea of smaller teams of personnel operating out of remote or austere locations, sometimes performing jobs outside of their career field, and capable of moving quickly.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. has made ACE a key part of his overall pivot toward China and other peer competitors, and units have practiced it everywhere from inside the Arctic Circle to across remote islands in the Pacific to a highway in Michigan.
Now, it’s making its way into BMT.
“Agile combat employment is about building foundational skills and problem-solving behaviors in an increasingly challenged threat environment to codify repeatable and understandable processes,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Parrish, commander of the 319th Training Squadron, which is responsible for the oversight of PACER FORGE.
Future Airmen have been taking part in PACER FORGE since at least October, and Pixley said leaders have received a positive response.
“What we are doing is making them ready to join any team, to work well together, to solve tough problems, to be good wingmen and teammates, and to innovate,” Pixley said in a statement. “If we get it right, it will be the highlight of their BMT experience, despite only being 36 hours in length. Early feedback suggests we are absolutely on the right track.”