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News | Aug. 10, 2023

Wisconsin Air Guard Unit Masters New Air Control Tactics

By Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

MADISON, Wis. - More than 120 members of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Control Squadron recently spent two weeks at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center in lower Michigan, learning how to integrate a more lightweight, scalable and mobile air traffic control management system in the field.

Historically, units such as the 128th Air Control Squadron manage aircraft from existing structures with large control room floors and other amenities in the rear of a combat zone. But the changing dynamics of the modern battlefield have increased the importance of mobility.

“Mobility helps us disperse and deploy our capabilities faster and more efficiently in combat zones to meet any potential threat on any terrain,” said Lt. Col. Shonn Breton, 128th Air Control Squadron commander. “As a result, our forces are more dynamic and able to withstand and counter assaults from enemy threats.”

During the first week of the training mission, the team established a main operating base and focused on weapons familiarization, establishing and fortifying field operations, proper radio and communications etiquette, and training in chemically contested environments. This was refresher training for most Airmen in the unit, but it improved the unit’s overall readiness in the Air Force’s new 24-month rotational deployment readiness cycle.

The 128th Air Control Squadron spent the second week establishing multiple forward operating locations about two hours away at Michigan’s Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center. Unit members learned to operate the new organic Tactical Operations Center-Light equipment, facilitating better air traffic control from a lightweight, scalable, distributed battle management system.

“These [agile combat employment] skills are imperative for the unit to prove their ability to conduct rapid and dispersed deployment requests by higher headquarters within a highly contested environment at a moment’s notice,” Breton said.

Each forward operating location organized a team of operators and maintainers who quickly established radar and communications. The teams explored managing air traffic with off-the-shelf equipment from the back of a government passenger van. They also evaluated the connectivity power of two internet service providers in a field-based location to view and manage overhead aircraft via radar. They also used a unit member’s 3-D printer to create equipment to help visually detect aircraft using automatic dependent surveillance broadcast beacons.

On average, it took 10 to 20 minutes to set up at the forward operating location — a fraction of the time typically required to establish visual radar and communications equipment. 

The unit realized a 100% success rate integrating this forward-deployed equipment with A-10 Warthogs from the 107th Fighter Squadron out of Selfridge Air National Guard Base, northeast of Detroit. The forward-based teams of the 128th ensured the A-10s safely entered the airspace, then handed control of the aircraft to Special Operations Command Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to conduct strafing runs on simulated locations where notional U.S. ground troops encountered enemy forces and required air support.

By learning to operate this new equipment in forward locations, the 128th is helping the U.S. Air Force establish air superiority anywhere, any time.

“I could not be prouder of the men and women of the 128th Air Control Squadron,” Breton said. “The [agile combat employment] and rapid deployment skills conducted were a complete success and served as a proof of concept as the unit transitions into preparing for the next fight against a peer competitor.”

The unit experienced a training first by convoying more than 500 miles in a single day in 14, 5-ton vehicles to Alpena CRTC.

The 128th also spent a day in downtown Alpena performing community service tasks such as painting fire hydrants and conducting repairs at the city marina.