Agile Combat Employment Exercise Marks Success for the 116th ACS, WADS

  • Published
  • By Mr. Steven Conklin
  • 142nd Wing/Public Affairs

The 116th Air Control Squadron (call sign LONGRACKS) of the Oregon Air National Guard (ORANG) in collaboration with the 109th Air Control Squadron (ACS) of the Utah Air National Guard (UTANG) who assisted with planning and equipment, along with the Western Area Defense Sector have completed the aptly named ORANGUTANG Agile Combat Employment (ACE) 2023 exercise.

This joint force exercise tested multiple units' abilities to conduct air battle management in a simulated contested environment in a way that more accurately aligns with how ACS units would operate in war time scenarios. During this exercise aircraft from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and the Royal Canadian Air Force were controlled by ACS operators.

An ACS is comprised of two main deployment packages; 1) a Deployed Radar (DR) which includes a long-range ground based radar system, a tactical radio suite, a tactical data link node, a Theater Deployable Communications package and a satellite communication long-haul system and 2) an Air Battle Element (ABE) that hosts the Command and Control (C2) equipment and air battle managers that communicate with pilots in contested airspace to provide a birds-eye perspective of the battle space, managing the air and ground war to ensure the safety of friendly forces while enhancing the lethality of America’s air power.

ORANGUTANG ACE marks first time the 116th ACS had deployed both the DR and ABE packages simultaneously in nearly two decades. To accomplish this, the unit relied on ACE tactics to lean out both deployment packages to the bare minimum equipment and supplies to effectively operate. This allowed the unit to take excess vehicles from DR package to organically transport the ABE to the deployed exercise location at Joint Base Lewis-McCord (JBLM). In doing so, the unit avoided tens of thousands of contracted transportation costs.

The exercise called for the DR package to deploy to Training Area 2 on Camp Rilea in Warrenton, Oregon, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with the assistance of Airmen from the 51st Combat Communications Squadron, while the ABE was sent 150 miles north into Washington where they set-up command and control operations on JBLM.

1st Lieutenant Luke Brawley, a Cyber Operations Officer with the 116th ACS, explained that this geographically separated deployment has specific advantages for conducting air battle management.

“The deployable radar is going to more of a field environment where the radar is going to have the range to watch on the scopes what the controller needs to see. The ABE is going to a more controlled site, however, the package we currently have can also be set up in remote locations,” said Brawley.

116th ACS Commander Lt. Col. John Middlemore was extremely proud of all the airmen involved and their efficiency to affect the fight.

“What was most impressive was the ability for them to pack, transport, and set-up all the equipment well within the mandated time frames. It's impressive because it demonstrates the ability to have a more immediate impact. If NORAD, USNORTHCOM or any combatant commander had a request, they can count on our airmen to have everything up and running when called upon.”

ACSs have a requirement to be fully mission capable within 72 hours of deployment. Of note, both the DR and ABE were impressively fully mission capable within 24 hours of start exercise at each site. This enabled controllers to begin supporting flying missions while being inspected by the 142nd Wing’s Inspector General team as they evaluated the unit’s ability to perform it’s assigned Mission Essential Tasks, some of which occurred during simulated enemy attacks. Additionally, the ABE team and WADS personnel exchanged facility tours, attended joint mission briefs, shared lessons learned, and discussed future integration between the two command and control agencies.

Over the course of the two-week exercise, the combined effort of the units led to a robust set of accomplishments. 116th ACS Assistant Director of Operations, Major Morgan Sawyer, expressed how impressed he was by the teamwork of all the airmen.

“ACS Airmen demonstrated that flexibility is the key to air power in that they embraced the Agile Airman concept and the One Team One Fight concept as the LONGRACKS worked as a team to solve problems outside of their primary [Air Force Specialty Code],” said Sawyer. “They were not just operators or maintainers, they were Airmen. This execution-focused team effort allowed the team to accomplish a much greater effect than just the sum of their individual parts.”