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NATO partners discuss command and control leading up to AK21

Hellenic Air Force Col. Evangelos Tzikas (left) walks U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Greg Semmel (right) into the newly formed Integrated Air and Missile Defense Center of Excellence for a facility tour in Chania, Crete on April 21, 2021. The IAMD COE was recently approved as a multinational COE where subject matter experts from five nations collaborate thoughts and inputs for the IAMD domain.

Hellenic Air Force Col. Evangelos Tzikas (left) walks U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Greg Semmel (right) into the newly formed Integrated Air and Missile Defense Center of Excellence for a facility tour in Chania, Crete, April 21, 2021. The IAMD COE was recently approved as a multinational COE where subject matter experts from five nations collaborate thoughts and inputs for the IAMD domain. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa hosted the first Command and Control Commanders’ Conference with the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence Center of Excellence at the NATO Missile Firing Installation conference center April 20-21, in Crete, Greece.

The C2CC was created to provide a venue for commanders across the area of operations to collaborate, bringing their ideas, experiences and discussions to the table to get a big picture of what to expect during the upcoming USAFE-AFAFRICA-led exercise Astral Knight 2021.

“The purpose of the conference was to bring the AK21 exercise participants’ unit commanders together to discuss air and missile defense topics of interest and concern,” said Bryan Vaughn, USAFE-AFAFRICA 603rd Air Operations Center air and missile defense planner. “And also to better prepare them for the execution of the exercise event.”

NATO allies that participated in the conference include Greece, Italy, Albania, Croatia, Turkey and the U.S. The partners discussed C2 strategies and collaboration, specifically IAMD coordination in the southern European region, in preparation for AK 21.

Vaughn planned the C2CC to make sure that coalition unit commanders, and their staff, were prepared for the exercise after its expansion and involvement with several different participants.

The group conferred on three different vignettes, specific to AK21 scenarios, affording each partner the opportunity to hear perspectives and discuss lessons learned from prior experiences.

“The conference brought the partners, the commanders and critical nodes of the exercise together so that we could talk through some challenges that we’ll see next month and some of the scenarios,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Semmel, Air National Guard assistant to the commander, USAFE-AFAFRICA and AK21 exercise director. “As a partnership and a coalition, this ensures we’re all on the same sheet of music when we go into the exercise—it’s critical.”

Having been the first ever C2CC in which leaders came together prior to the multinational exercise, the two-day conference allowed partners to learn and understand why C2 is important and how each nation takes ownership in the success of the exercise.

“We felt it was a good idea to do some mission rehearsal and some preparatory discussions with them to build their confidence and ensure smoother execution of the exercise itself,” Vaughn said.

The staff of the newly-formed IAMD COE plan to take information from the discussions and the experiences of their counterparts as tools to ensure their success in the business.

“The conference broadened our horizon in knowledge and expertise through great discussions about IAMD,” said Hellenic Air Force Col. Evangelos Tzikas, IAMD COE director. “We were able to receive the knowledge and experience from the IAMD spectrum to use in the future and we now have a better understanding of where we have to focus as a multinational COE.”

During their closing remarks, all of the commanders gave remarks of gratitude.

“This happened because of USAFE’s team, my IAMD COE team, and the NAMFI team that put all these things together…” Tzikas said. “…and of course with the permission of the Hellenic National General Staff allowing us to be together.”

“Having this conference was critical,” Semmel said.

“Sometimes we go into an exercise ‘cold;’ this allows us to go into the exercise a little warmer and even better prepared. It was hugely beneficial.”

AK21, scheduled to take place at the end of May, is U.S. European Command’s capstone IAMD and Joint All-Domain Command and Control exercise, and the only one led by USAFE-AFAFRICA. The joint, multinational exercise is intended to focus on defending key terrain through communications infrastructures.

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