JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Lackland, Texas –
Members of Air Force Reserve Command joined members of Air Combat Command, U.S. Army, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) for the multi-phase Exercise AGILE BLIZZARD UNIFIED VISION at Coldfoot, Alaska, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and Comox, British Columbia, Canada, from June 12-22, 2023.
The exercise served as a vital platform for honing operational readiness to enhance Agile Combat Employment (ACE). In total, this exercise integrated 23 countries, over 220 joint partners and allies, and included members from all three AFRC NAFs and 13 units under the 960th Cyberspace Wing, AFRC's only cyberspace wing.
“After decades of near-continuous combat operations, we must align Air Force processes and force presentation to better support readiness, the generation of combat power, and warfighting,” said Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, Air Force Chief of Staff. “Innovative Airmen are diligently building better ways to present Air Forces to the Joint Force.”
The CSAF’s call to “Accelerate Change or Lose” prompted a Total Force effort to re-evaluate and optimize the force’s resources, capabilities, and effectiveness. The ABUV exercise was organized in response to this call to improve ACE and interoperability among North Atlantic Treaty Organization members by aligning allied and Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance activities.
During the exercise, the 35th and 55th Combat Communications Squadrons (CBCS), 52nd Network Warfare Squadron, and other members of the 960th Cyberspace Wing were able to test their combat communications equipment in austere Arctic conditions in northern Alaska. The team of 15 airmen was able to successfully run capability tests for high-frequency radios, multiple-user objective system radios, a radio frequency monitoring system and a mobile WiFi connection in coordination with exercise partners in distant locations.
The tests were the first of their type to be conducted in remote conditions where the environment harshly affects communication infrastructure. As the significance of the Arctic continues to grow as a region of strategic interest, the warfighter receives support through networking, communications infrastructure, and cybersecurity ensured by the talent of cyberspace Citizen Airmen.
“When we went north of the Arctic Circle, we tested some equipment that shouldn’t have worked but did,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Ortiz, 689th Network Operations Squadron chief of standards and evaluation. “We overcame some network connectivity problems, and we were successful in all the operations we set out to do.”
The Forward Operating Site (FOS) located at Tinker Air Force Base hosted 160 Airmen across multiple AFSCs and specialties from 12-22 June. At FOS-Tinker, planning teams led by Air Force Reserve Airmen fulfilled Lead Wing requirements to conduct multiple ACE operations, including coordination of five AFRC aircraft that executed, passenger movements, an airfield assault, a C-130 simulated decon mission, movement of 91 passengers and 55 tons of cargo.
During the exercise, the planning team responded to multiple scenarios where they were challenged to step into their roles as Multi-Capable Airmen (MCA) to respond to real-world emergency situations. In one scenario, FOS-Tinker experienced an emergency FOS tear-down due to a Tornado Watch where members assisted in tent tear-down, palletization, transport and securing of all equipment, ensuring the safety and accountability of all FOS personnel.
Additionally, the staff experienced a real-world situation that forced them to change the pre-coordinated air drop zone at Ft. Still, Oklahoma. The entire team took part in a six-hour Crisis Action Planning event to identify, confirm, and secure a same-day alternate drop zone for a successful Airfield Seizure over Clinton Sherman Airfield.
“The A-Staff found a solution [to the airdrop] and we were on our way to Clinton Sherman Airport,” said Master Sgt. Tyler Martin, 35 CBCS plans non-commissioned officer in charge. “They figured out how to work together as a team, address issues quickly, and essentially do ACE.”
Agile Combat Employment initiatives focus on response to multidomain scenarios to reshape the way that Airmen think, work, and incorporate processes that elevate Air Force capabilities in preparation for the future fight.
"Our planning team filled a critical gap for the lead wing when they were redirected off the exercise due to real-world requirements," said Maj. Kimberly Freeman, 854th Combat Operations Squadron assistant director of operations and FOS-Tinker commander. "The expertise of our Information Warfare planners and the experience that Total Force Integration brings to the fights enables us to remain flexible and adaptive to new and emerging challenges. Our team is focused on AFRC's intent to be 'ready now and transform the future'; their readiness and competency enable the success of this exercise and prepared them to stand ready for the future fight."
“Combining multidomain and coalition forces to exercise the ACE scheme of maneuver provides valuable insights into how far we have come as an Air Force to meet the needs of any peer conflict and ensure our readiness for the pacing threat,” said Maj. James Black, ACC Agile Battle Lab (ABL) Director of Operations. “Executing so many complex actions simultaneously proves we can not only survive but fight and ultimately win in a challenging operational environment.”
Part of the ACE concepts under review by ABL is the integration of the Multi-Capable Airmen mindset. MCA allows Airmen to be trained to accomplish tasks traditionally outside their core Air Force specialty. The ability of Airmen to operate in a cross-functional environment provides versatile support to aviation force elements from warfighting to reconnaissance to rescue operations.
Multiple Total Force units were able to test their aircraft capabilities and supporting technologies (forklifts, aircraft tugs, munitions loader, and more) across a diverse set of scenario objectives, which included A-10 Thunderbolts IIs, PUMA Unmanned Aerial Systems, C-5 Galaxies, C-130 Hercules, and C-17 Globemasters.
At Comox, British Columbia, Canada, medical technicians, Tactical Air Control Party members, and combat communicators established a communications infrastructure connecting the three operating exercise locations. Several A-10s from the 23rd Wing flew strike coordination and reconnaissance missions in support of the RCN Maritime Coastal Defense Vehicle operating in the Straits of Georgia.
During the final week of ABUV, members of the 910th Airlift Wing supported several exercise aerial spray missions. The 910th AW is the Department of Defense’s only large area fixed-wing aerial spray capability to control disease-carrying insects, pests, and disperse oil spills in large bodies of water. In support of ABUV, the C-130 Hercules aircrew sprayed 1,800 gallons of water on exercise vehicles to provide simulated cleansing from chemicals.
“We were able to compare two types of configurations for aerial spraying. Over time, we’ll compare the two and decide which methods are better for which types of products,” said Col. Mark Breidenbaugh, AFRC Command entomologist. “Integration with these types of units, particularly combat communications, and looking at how all these different units were able to come together seamlessly and support each other’s missions, paves the way to how the Air Force fights.”
The exercise director, Lt. Col. Nathaniel Ferraco, observed the successful execution of agile operations from the many personnel, assets, and systems across the operating sites for Exercise AGILE BLIZZARD UNIFIED VISION.
“The importance of partners and the continued pursuit of building a strong agile joint planning effort cannot be underestimated. Exercise ABUV focused on ACE planning, bringing the future to today’s fight with technology upgrades for BICES, a more robust C4ISR picture, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and remotely-operated equipment courtesy of our partners and Agile Battle Lab,” said Lt. Col. Nathaniel Ferraco, 35th CBCS commander and ABUV director.
“Using the Total Force concept: Reserve, active and Guard members from all services and different specialties created a holistic, well-rounded approach to problem-solving and delivered robust courses of action which would not have manifested with singular vantage points of the problem set. We are grateful for the Total Force team that made this exercise successful.”