128th Air Control Squadron Trains for Near-Peer Competitors

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amber Peck,
  • Wisconsin National Guard

VOLK FIELD, Wis. – The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Control Squadron trained for two weeks at Volk Field and Hardwood Range to prepare for future missions.

From July 11-25, Airmen were in the field conducting training to accelerate readiness, mobility and flexibility in today’s changing threat environment.

Guard members packed and loaded equipment onto trucks as quickly and safely as possible and drove by convoy four hours across Wisconsin. They dug foxholes and set up perimeters, concealed and camouflaged their trucks and tents, and set up their radio and other control stations in the field. 

The training culminated in testing equipment and evaluating their stealth and concealment with drone and thermal imagery.

“We’re really looking to test our abilities for the first time in a couple decades on how well we as an air control squadron are getting back to the basics and providing a more mobile and capable command and control element to the aerial fight,” said Capt. Bradley Kelly, interim commander of the 128th Air Control Squadron.

This annual training was very different from past unit training events, taking into account the lessons from Eastern Europe and what a war in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command region may look like against a near-peer competitor nation.

For example, the unit explored setting up equipment and controlling the aerial fight in the field rather than at a control center in a secure building far from the battlefront. Airmen assembled their tents spread out in tree lines under the forest canopy instead of in a row in an open field, which could create an easy target.

Kelly said the idea was to simulate working near troops at the front line and moving with them as the battle space shifts.

“Now we’re looking at, potentially, the future fight being air control squadrons getting out in the field, having a leaner overall footprint, being faster and more mobile, and controlling from very close to that front line where the fighting is happening,” he said.

The strides toward a more mobile force align with Kelly’s previous assignment as the Air Force’s lead planner for Agile Combat Employment operations in support of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD missions into the far Canadian arctic. 

Coincidently, these are strategies and core skills the 128th Air Control Squadron used approximately 20 years ago and has not touched on since entering the post-9/11 era, where the Air Force has not faced an adversary with a comparable air component. 

Fortunately, the unit still has a handful of Airmen who were around then and regularly trained on core field skills development. 

“Some of the unit members are near the end of their military careers, so, unfortunately, a lot of wealth of knowledge is about to leave the unit,” Kelly said. “Therefore, what I’m really excited about during this training is seeing some of our more experienced service members passing down that wealth of knowledge to the younger troops, and the next generation of Airmen pick up the torch and lead the charge into the future.”

The 128th Air Control Squadron consists of two elements – an operations section that controls aircraft and a maintenance section that responds to operational needs and supports equipment requests. 

The Wisconsin Air National Guard unit provides a variety of capabilities, including combat search and rescue, close air support, offensive and defensive counter air missions, and air-to-ground missions.