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AMC units advance tactical data link capabilities during Joint training

  • Published
  • By Capt Alexis Burdon
  • 18th Air Force Public Affairs

Air Mobility Command units trained together during two large scale events this month to advance tactical data link capabilities across the Mobility Air Force and enhance their ability to provide Rapid Global Mobility for the Joint Force.  

The mobility units brought their experience to the test during two large scale events from Dec. 4-5 for a Joint Forcible Entry training scenario and Dec. 8-12 for Battalion Mass Tactical Week.

The U.S. Air Force Weapons School’s JFE training scenario at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and Battalion Mass Tactical Week at Pope Army Airfield, N.C., brought the units nearly coast-to-coast to exercise the ability of aircrew to airdrop U.S. Army paratroopers into simulated threat environments using tactical data link capabilities and connections with commercial satellites to enhance situational awareness of threats facing the aircrew, aircraft and paratroopers.

JFE trains Airmen further on ‘beyond line of sight’ capabilities

The JFE training enabled Mobility Air Force units to iterate on a concept originally experimented with in June 2020 in which aircraft beyond line of sight from each other executed communications requirements during simulated wartime scenarios. This exercise served as an innovative first step into the future of air superiority by demonstrating that no matter the looming obstacle, mobility forces are trained to overcome.

“Exercises like JFE and Battalion Mass Tactical Week allow our Airmen to experiment with a variety of technologies to better connect the joint force,” said Maj. Gen. Thad Bibb, 18th Air Force commander. “These exercises turn a conceptual idea like joint all domain command and control into a real world executable initiative that will advance our warfighting capabilities in support of the National Defense Strategy.”

JFE allows Airmen to exercise their skills intra-service before exercising among the joint force during BMTW exercise the following week.

Both events build upon the basic core skills Airmen develop at their home station and challenge Airmen to put their skills to test in a live fly environment with simulated threats. Removing the comfort of familiarity challenges Airmen on a different level and prepares them for real-world missions.

BMTW paves way for seamless inter-service operations

BMTW is a joint training event between the 82nd Airborne Division and AMC units which serves as a venue for Airmen and Soldiers to practice contingency operations in a controlled environment.

“BMTW gives Airmen a chance to put their training into action while also working with our joint partners,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Stewart, BMTW air mission commander. “This exercise allows our teams to determine what works and what doesn’t work to develop and enact innovative solutions. That investment here paves the way for Airmen in future fights to quickly solve complex issues for our Nation’s wartime needs.”

“Specific to this particular BMTW, our Airmen will leverage emerging technology with supporting joint air assets to prove our ability to execute the Mobility Air Forces JADC2 campaign plan,” Stewart said.

Though BMTWs aren’t unusual for the 82nd Airborne Division, this exercise is unique due to the integration of emerging technology.

“Traditionally, JFEs and BMTWs have focused on incremental advances to tactics, techniques and procedures, emerging technology, and a slow or static evolution of enemy actions, but we can no longer afford incremental change,” said Maj. Jordan Novotny, 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group tactician. “With the rapid pace of adversary capabilities, we must accelerate change by ruthlessly prioritizing our training to focus on developing Multi-Capable Airmen and Digitally-Adept Airmen who will set the conditions for innovation.”

This type of experimentation and training has a number of benefits in addition to affording Airmen exquisite training with Joint partners for future conflicts. Additionally, air mobility operations officers view the tactical data link capabilities as infinite due to how advanced it is in comparison to previous communications efforts.

"The opportunities tactical data link provides will revolutionize the future of combat," said Maj. Jacob Rieth, AMC Air Mobility Liaison Officer to the 82nd Airborne Division. "Under the previous operating procedures, it would have been nearly impossible to move or change a drop zone mid-operation, but this new capability will allow us to change the drop zone during the span of an ocean crossing, which substantially increases our flexibility and responsiveness while reducing risk."

Higher headquarters perspective

Lessons learned from these events and feedback from Airmen help AMC inform future Joint warfighting concepts, such as JADC2, and help provide tangible information to the Air Force as it builds the Advanced Battle Management System, the architecture through which the Air Force envisions conducting JADC2.

“A key part of the AMC Commander’s ‘Advance Warfighting Capabilities’ priority is experimentation,” said Lt. Col. Bradley Rueter, Chief, AMC Commander’s Initiative Group, who assisted in coordinating the training event. “Experiments enable the MAF, and broader AF, to try out ideas, concepts and technologies in small numbers to better understand what the pros, cons and strengths and weakness are, which helps drive much better requirements for deliberate acquisition.  So, lessons learned from JFE and BMTW will feed changes to how we organize and train in the short term, but also help us equip the MAF, in the air and on the ground, to project the Joint Force in warfighting concepts that are still being developed, like JADC2.”

Given the predicted nature of future conflicts involving contested logistics, the effectiveness of Mobility Air Forces to get to the fight is becoming increasingly important. 

“Mobility Air Forces are a critical enabling capability to project the Joint Force,” said Bibb. “Whether it’s training to airdrop U.S. Army paratroopers during a Joint Forcible Entry exercise, refueling strategic bombers or airborne command and control aircraft, Mobility Airmen maintain the highest levels of readiness by training like we fight.”

These simulated environments give units a chance to test new initiatives and critically analyze resourcing concepts that would make them more effective in future operations.

“At the NAF level, we’re committed to advocating for the resources that make efforts like these possible,” said Bibb. “Bringing our warfighters to realistic simulations enables us to hot wash areas for improvement so we know what we need for the future fight. These training events have done just that and have armed our service members with mission-revolutionizing capabilities.”