Advancing capabilities, technology and the defense of the U.S. is a priority for the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Air Force took those goals to Canada during EXERCISE AGILE BLIZZARD UNIFIED VISION. With a small contingent of Airmen, the 55th Wing set up a main operating base performing communications, logistics and command & control in a semi-austere location.
From June 9-22, 55 Airmen, contractors and civilians, from bases around the world operated out of only two deployment tents in Canada. The objective was to test the Air Force’s ability to collect joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information and transfer it to Forward Operating Sites at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, as well as to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, in an Agile Combat Employment construct.
Additionally, the MOB provided command and control over A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft, assigned to Moody AFB, Georgia, which were employed as a counter-maritime force to support coalition multi-domain missions. These objectives are designed to test the Lead Wing concept while improving JISR interoperability amongst NATO partners.
EX AVUB enabled the use of the Battlefield Information Collection and Exploitation System, which transfers collected intelligence products, including ISR video feeds, into a cloud for NATO forces to see anywhere in the world.
“This increases information sharing and interoperability between allies. The capability to integrate with forces around the world allows NATO partners to effectively maintain a robust communications infrastructure,” explained Maj. Kyle Shaner, 55th Wing A3 and the MOB commander. “Establishing these capabilities ensures we are prepared to strategically deter attacks presented by enemy forces, while building a resilient and cohesive joint force within NATO.”
The transfer of these feeds in a remote location cannot happen without established communications. In order to make this possible, the 35th and 55th Combat Communications Squadrons (XCOMM) worked together to build a robust communication suite with limited equipment and supplies. This enabled contingency operations and connected various cyber capabilities with coalition partners to provide resilient communication feeds, with the capability to withstand the challenges of frequent unit maneuver and enemy action.
“One of the things we are after is modernization of the force,” Shaner explained. “The overall objective is practicing Lead Wing aspects of deploying in a contested, austere environment and then we are able to practice agile combat deployment. Additionally, another major factor for us being here is interoperability and coalition partnerships; seeing how we operate in a foreign country [under the ACE concept] and the lessons learned from that.”
Personnel from 15th Air Force, known as White Cell, deployed with the team, providing exercise injects to ensure the team was challenged. These injects involved degrading or limiting a capability unexpectedly. Airmen then went through contingency plans in order to sustain, and when needed, regain the communication capabilities needed to ensure operations.
“We don’t have a whole lot of equipment except what we bring,” said Shaner. “We are challenging ourselves in an austere environment where the White Cell is challenging us with our limited capabilities. If a problem exists, they go through…list of priorities for communication and make that work in the real world and then pass that information to our [Forward Operating Site] Tinker.
“This is how it works in an austere environment and we are working to practice how we will hopefully play someday in an ACE environment.”
While MOB Comox primarily focused on expeditionary communications, Air Combat Command’s Agile Battle Lab took advantage of the opportunity, bringing assets the Air Force is experimenting with for future operations.
Airmen at the MOB utilized several new communication devices as well as a Multi-Purpose Expeditionary Platform, a vehicle capable of being configured as a forklift, munitions loader, aircraft tug and more, consolidating the necessary equipment a unit would need for a deployment, allowing for agile movement. Experiments with the MPEP onsite alongside the ABL, enabled direct feedback on limitations and necessary improvements as it would relate to an austere environment.
“The work done here, not just with the U.S. Air Force, but also with our Canadian allies, helps to train the ACE scheme of maneuver, while also supporting the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, and the broader National Defense Strategy,” said Maj. James Black, ACC ABL director of operations. “Capabilities such as the Multi-Purpose Expeditionary Platform provide our Airmen with a smaller, multi-capable equipment to match [ACC’s] efforts to organize, train and equip multi-capable Airmen.”
EX ABUV challenged this small group of Airmen to establish and maintain command, control and communications while sending ISR products to the other side of the world to share with allies and partners. U.S. forces practices integrated deterrence in the Arctic, partnering with Canadian forces and employing interoperability to support common interests throughout the exercise.
“We’ve proven we can rapidly deploy teams to unfamiliar locations where we organically stand-up robust communication suites in order to quickly pass information to our NATO partners over the cloud,” Shaner concluded. “I think the XCOMM piece is an outstanding asset to have on the future battlefield, because if you can’t communicate, it is very hard to fight, especially when you are working with different services and coalition partners.”