Air Defense Goes Agile In The Homeland

  • Published
  • By Kimberly D. Burke
  • Western Air Defense Sector Public Affairs

For the past month, Airmen from the Western Air Defense Sector's 225th Air Defense Squadron have been innovating mobile tactical command and control planning and exercises to inch closer to a vision of agile combat employment (ACE) to protect the homeland.  

On Apr. 25, 2023, WADS continued testing of a unique concept that integrates rapidly deployable communications capabilities to create agility in a theater that is at the top of the National Defense Strategy's goals sheet - the Homeland.  Protecting North American airspace is the primary mission for NORAD, under Operation Noble Eagle, which focuses on threats that may originate within the U.S. and Canada.  WADS, under the command of NORAD, identifies, monitors, and tracks suspect air traffic approaching and traveling through North American airspace.  

By bringing together the concepts of multi-capable Airmen and agile combat employment, the Airmen of the 225th Air Defense Squadron - radio callsign "Bigfoot" - delivered a first-of-its-kind exercise and demonstration of rapidly deployable Theater Air Control System capabilities that provide resilience and continuity of operations.

“We are integrating communications and battlespace awareness equipment so that we will ultimately keep Bigfoot on station no matter what comes our way through command and control,” said 2nd Lt. Tyler Shoemaker, 225th Air Defense Squadron air battle manager. “We want to offer maximum C2 capabilities possible while mobile... operating well inside any adversary's OODA loop and executing the mission anywhere, anytime the commander needs us to.”  The OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act) is a four-step approach to decision-making that focuses on filtering available information, putting it in context and quickly making the most appropriate decision while also understanding that changes can be made as more data becomes available.

The demonstration involved a rapid deployment to Sunset Beach in Oregon to set up line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight communications coupled with a mesh network sensor grid to act as an extension of the Western Air Defense Sector in a remote environment.  Three 225th Air Defense Squadron Airmen set up as a Battle Management Team with a focus on rapid mobility and mission type orders that allowed them to be an adaptive extension of the Theater Air Control System.  The exercise involved F-15C fighters from the 142d Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard, that were seamlessly controlled and managed across both the Western Air Defense Sector at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the forward operating Battle Management Team at Sunset Beach.

The demonstration intended to prove that the Western Air Defense Sector can conduct tactical C2 functions, execute mission orders and continue to close kill chains in the event that operating bases are compromised, while also making operations more agile in a degraded combat environment.

“Being mobile is critical to make us more dynamic and survivable against enemy threats,” said 1st Lt. Aaron DeCremer, 225th Air Defense Squadron air battle manager. “It means we are able to disperse our capabilities and continue fighting against any adversary on any terrain.”

The 225th Air Defense Squadron's ACE demonstration is the Western Air Defense Sector's response to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) policy and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force's Operational Imperative to operationalize Advanced Battle Management Systems.

Currently, one of the top priorities for the United State Air Force, figuring out how to conduct adaptive operations in a contested environment, is an essential component of the warfighting effort.  "The Western Air Defense Sector sees itself in the core task of defending the United States in a tangible way," said Col. Antony Braun, 225th Air Defense Squadron commander.  "This involves acknowledging that future conflicts against near peer adversaries will require fast action and even faster decisions.  Ensuring access to the situational awareness required to close kill chains is essential.  Our Airmen got out there and innovated an adaptive battle plan and assured mission accomplishment.  This is exactly the kind of innovation that we need to get after...faster, flexible, air superiority."

Synchronizing battle management across the Theater Air Control System involves agile communication platforms and improved battlespace awareness tools.  "Agility like we demonstrated at Sunset Beach is critical for making policy operational," said Braun.  "We will continue to pursue mobility, agility, and flexibility with our goal to establish air superiority anytime, anywhere the air component needs it."

The 225th Air Defense Squadron is planning several Combined Force Training exercises in the upcoming months to continue efforts to create more resiliency, time and options for the theater.