Joint communication training creates realistic scenarios, cost savings

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran
  • North Carolina National Guard
“Train like we fight” and “Do more with less” are mottos echoing the walls of countless Defense Department and Air Force conference rooms daily; and for good reason.

U.S. military missions continue to expand while concurrently trying to balance shrinking budgets and decreasing personnel.

During his April 2014 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference speech, Gen. John Hyten, then vice commander of Air Force Space Command said, “Whatever you can do to come up with solutions that really do save us money and provide additional capability across the Air Force, we're all for it"

The recent partnership between the North Carolina Air National Guard’s 263rd Combat Communications Squadron and Air Combat Command’s 527th Space Aggressor Squadron, and their Reserve counterpart, the 26th SAS, represent this vision in action. They are an example of using innovation to tie limited resources together through a total force integration relationship and build mission capability and capacity for the joint force.

The 263rd CBCS, located at North Carolina Air National Guard base provides tactical secure and unsecure voice and data communications systems in support of deployed warfighters and in support of civil authorities for state disaster response. Reliable communication is the life-blood of any crisis, natural disaster or conflict, and the unit has actively and diligently sought advanced training opportunities with the 527th SAS to ensure mission success.

As a geographically separated squadron located at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, the 527th SAS fully embodies the aggressor concept. That concept provides training audiences enemy-like scenarios to realistically replicate adversary threats. The space aggressors enable training audiences to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to counter threats and improve U.S. joint warfighting communication capabilities, specifically by providing satellite communication electronic attack replication.

Using boxing as an example, the 263rd CBCS is the boxer preparing for a fight, while the aggressors represent the sparring partner.

"We hit them in practice, to make sure they can take a punch, stand up and hit back in combat," said Maj. Christopher Fernengel, an operations officer assigned to the 527th SAS.

In addition to being rivals in training, these innovative units are partnering to build a stronger future force while simultaneously executing fiscal dexterity.

Between October 2014 and January 2015, the space aggressors deployed to North Carolina to support nearly 37,000 Sailors, Marines and Airmen during three U.S. Strategic Command and Navy exercises. Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars in shipping costs to transport electronic attack training equipment, the 527th SAS repurposed standard combat communications equipment to replicate electronic attack to support the training exercises. Meanwhile, the 263rd CBCS Airmen provided technical expertise and manpower in support of the space aggressor mission.

"The relationship between our unit and the 527th advances total force integration, makes great fiscal sense and has significantly increased our ability to provide reliable communications to the warfighter in a contested environment," said Lt. Col. Anthony Sullins, the commander of the 263rd CBCS.

The commonality of equipment between the 527th SAS and 263rd CBCS provides many advantages that enhance the missions of both units. The space aggressors save on transportation costs and personnel hours by leveraging combat communications equipment and personnel. The Air Force guardsmen of the 263rd CBCS can leverage training opportunities to remain proficient on their mission tasks prior to real world deployments. The advanced training provided by the 527th SAS allows combat communication operators to develop TTP and mitigation strategies through electro-magnetic interference “dogfight” exercises.

The combined efforts of both squadrons resulted in nearly $62,000 in total savings of travel and personnel associated costs. Such a partnership answers the charge from the ACC commander that challenges Airmen to think creatively and develop innovative solutions to near term shortfalls.

In fiscal year 2015, the support relationship between all three units is expected to be executed four times, providing the DOD an estimated savings of $250,000.
“This total force effort will culminate by arming over 50,000 joint personnel with training and TTP development to fight in and through a contested environment during combat,” Fernengel said.

A significant benefit of the partnership, which can’t be measured in cost savings, is how the 263rd CBCS becomes better prepared to fight in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment. The aggressors also learn more about critical communications and ensure vulnerabilities are identified, exploited and mitigation tactics are developed.

“Over the last year, we, along with our combat communications group, have worked with the 527th to integrate more combat (communication) units into this training and codify our lessons into community wide TTPs that are regularly exercised and trained,” Sullins said. “Until technical solutions to mitigate jamming are integrated into our equipment, we will use these TTPs to ensure combat communicators mitigate this threat at the tactical edge of our networks.”