Wisconsin Air Guard unit helps refine air combat targeting processes

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  • By Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs
The Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Control Squadron — based at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center near Camp Douglas, Wisconsin — recently participated in a five-day exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada that could result in a significant combat competitive advantage for the United States, its allies and partners.

“It was an invaluable opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the development and refining of our weapons systems for the future,” said Maj. Cedar Hamilton, an air battle manager instructor and evaluator who serves as the chief of standards and evaluations with the 128th Air Control Squadron.

The 2023 Capstone exercise, administered by the 805th Combat Training Squadron — also known as the Shadow Operations Center-Nellis — focused on developing tactics, techniques and procedures for integrated two-way kill-chain automation between operational and tactical command and control elements. A kill-chain is the Air Force process of putting bombs or missiles on target.

The 128th sent seven members — air battle managers and weapons directors — to join members from three other Air National Guard units, active duty and coalition partners at the exercise. The purpose of the exercise was to collect data and analyze system automation, study the interconnectivity of battle management systems across platforms and between services, and to realistically deploy the Control and Reporting Center Tactical Operations Center-Light weapons system.

“We stress-tested the networks and personnel, and provided cloud-based systems performance data as compared to permanent infrastructure,” Hamilton said. “In layman’s terms, we tested the speed and reliability of automating target nomination, acquisition and notification as compared to human-driven processes.”

At last year’s training event, the 805th Combat Training Squadron determined that it is possible to quantify, observe and measure command and control.

“The idea of measuring C2 [command and control] has been overlooked in the past because of the misconception that 'C2 is an art,'” said Col. Jonathan Zall of the U.S. Air Force Advanced Battle Management System Cross Functional Team. “Human judgment will continue to play a critical role, but we're proving C2 decision making is far more science than art."

The experiments focused on automation to increase the speed, scale and accuracy of the “find, fix, track, target and engage” process. Hamilton explained that currently, human operators provide all commands for data exchange and communication, from operational levels to tactical execution. The goal of automation is to expedite processes in accordance with rules of engagement to deliver the operator a decision recommendation, and notification up the chain of command.

“By automating the steps that we can, it will free battle managers, intelligence professionals and battlefield operators to focus on higher-priority human functions,” Hamilton said. “The C2 community is undergoing significant changes and the 128th Air Control Squadron, as part of the C2 community, is being asked to be more agile, cloud based, system agnostic and resilient.”

The 128th has already taken steps toward this — since returning from Nellis, the squadron has received a prototype Tactical Operations Center-Light, and is testing it to provide feedback for future versions of the system. Simply put, this is a portable system that can be quickly set up and moved in a field environment.

Hamilton said it was a great privilege for the 128th to take part in this exercise.

“My team has brought back a renewed enthusiasm and advanced knowledge about where we are headed as a community which they have passed along to their team,” she said.

Deb Henley, 505th Command and Control Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this report