Air defense exercise to test NORTHCOM response

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Months of planning and preparations are being tested as Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors participate in Exercise Amalgam Dart '09, a major U.S. Northern Command air defense exercise here June 18 through 20.

The exercise is one of several North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM exercises under the Ardent Sentry '09 exercise series.

More than 200 Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and civilian employees from around the country are participating in the exercise. The combined group is now known as Joint Task Force-America's Shield.

Soldiers from the South Carolina National Guard's 263d Army Air and Missile Defense Command deployed with and set up a Joint Air Defense Operations Center. Located in tents set up at Camp Rilea, the JADOC serves as the command and control element between an Army air defense unit on the ground and the continental United States NORAD Region, which provides airspace surveillance and control and directs all air sovereignty activities.

In garrison, the 263rd falls under U.S. Army North.

South Carolina's 2nd Battalion, 263rd Air Defense Artillery deployed with the Army's Avenger air defense system. Equipped with two Stinger missile pods carried atop a modified Humvee, Avengers are deployable-homeland air and cruise missile defense assets -- part of a new air defense system.

Avengers have been set-up around Camp Rilea, on private land in nearby Warrenton and historic Fort Stevens State Park for the exercise.

"Fort Stevens was selected for this exercise because it was key terrain 150 years ago and it's still key terrain today," said Lt Col. Bill Berry, the 263d AAMDC project officer for Amalgam Dart. "Fort Stevens was an active military post guarding the Columbia River from late in the Civil War until 1947. "

During the exercise, the unit will practice detecting, identifying, tracking and intercepting potentially threatening airborne missiles or aircraft.

Providing communications support to the soldiers are Airmen from the Rhode Island Air National Guard's 282nd and Georgia ANG's 283rd Combat Communications Squadrons deployed to provide.

From their Air and Space Operations Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., the CONR commander, Maj. Gen. Hank Morrow and his staff will direct Air Force, Army and Navy assets, ensuring the air sovereignty and air defense of the continental United States.

The Western Air Defense Sector, based at McChord AFB, Wash., will detect, identify, track and scramble fighters if need be to intercept unknown or threatening airborne objects.

A Navy Aegis-equipped destroyer, the USS Shoup (DDG 86) will patrol off the Oregon coast and use computers and radars to track and destroy enemy targets.

An Air Force E-3 Sentry from the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker AFB, Okla., operating from McChord AFB, will provide all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by air defense forces.

Oregon Air National Guard's 142nd Fighter Wing F-15 Eagles and California Air National Guard's 144th FW F-16 Fighting Falcons will serve as interceptors during the exercise. They will operate out of Portland and McChord AFB, Wash., respectively.

C-21s from the 311th Airlift Squadron at Peterson AFB, Colo. and the Air Force Flights Standards Agency in Oklahoma City, Okla., along with Cessna 172s from the Oregon Wing of the Civil Air Patrol will serve as high and low-level "targets'" for the exercise participants.

During Amalgam Dart '09, CONR, the Joint Task Force, and all other units involved will demonstrate a rapidly deployable air defense system that could protect high profile national targets against cruise missiles and other low-flying threats.

There will be no night flying by Air Force and Air National Guard aircraft, while there will be some night flying by the Civil Air Patrol.

Additionally, there will be no live munitions involved in the exercise.