Back to the Future

  • Published
  • By Col. David McNulty
  • 102nd Intelligence Group
By the end of the year, major coalition combat forces will redeploy from Afghanistan, closing a chapter in the "Long War" against terrorism. While 10,000 special operators and training advisors will likely remain, the shift away from ground-intensive counter-insurgency operations will drive a significant reduction in Air National Guard (ANG) combat and combat support deployments. In more than twelve years of continuous combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of members of this wing have deployed forward, some multiple times. For 72% of airmen in the wing (according to Force Support Flight statistics), the "Long War" is all they've known. More than a few of these post 9/11 airmen have asked me what the 102nd will do for a "peacetime" mission and questioned the Guard's relevancy without "boots on the ground" around the globe.

Even for the 28% of wing members who drove into a military installation on a sunny Tuesday in September 2001, there are questions about what the "new normal" will look like without a flying mission. I'd like to use this article to offer a brief view of how our intelligence mission, cyber mission, inspections, and Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) cycles will fit into our nation's ability to exercise its national security strategy in a complex and volatile world.

Peacetime training does not equate to irrelevance for the Guard--it's just the opposite. By reducing the pace of long deployments, the Guard can shift "back to the future" of pre-9/11 strengths--focusing efforts on training, honing skills, innovating, and preparing for the next fight.

In the Intelligence Group, "Long War" counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations will continue, but at reduced tasking and operations tempo. The demand from combatant commander's for intelligence will keep at least a portion of 102nd Intelligence Group airmen in a 24/7/365 posture for the foreseeable future. The remainder will be trained and ready to meet 100% of wartime tasking within 72 hours. We will use this time for honing tactics, techniques, and procedures in exercises like GREEN FLAG and RED FLAG. We will improve analytical tradecraft and focus analysis efforts on long-term global threats and "hard problems", while pushing innovation in the weapon system with partners like MIT-Lincoln Labs.

The Cyber Installation and Engineering Group's years-long tempo of 6-month deployments will slow down, replaced with shorter TDYs for training and support, like their current hardship tours to Antigua and Australia. The 253rd will continue to provide oversight for their eight squadrons in seven states, while offering cutting edge cyber planning and management to commander's worldwide.

As the Cyber ISR mission comes on-line, transitioning Air Operations Group and Combat Comm Squadron airmen will add a third high-demand, high-tech, far-reaching operational mission set, well-suited to experience and low-turnover of Guard airmen, into the 102d. The resulting three complimentary "ops" missions ensure the relevancy of the 102d for years to come. With heavy 'dual-hat' missions to both domestic and federal tasking, the Mission Support and Medical Groups will add the 'readiness' component to these critical ops missions.

There's more 'back to the future' in store for the wing 2016--the Combined Unit Inspection (CUI) and AEF vulnerability window. The CUI, a wing-driven inspection process combining elements of ORI, UCI, HSI, and Stan/Eval Visits will provide the target for our 'peacetime' ancillary, AFSC, team, and squadron training effort. On the backside of the CUI, our AEF window takes on a pre-9/11 mindset--all, some, or none of the 102d will be called up to provide the combat skillsets we train in depending on crisis/need.

To illustrate the importance of the cycle we're about to enter, I go back to my own pre- 9/11 experience with training, inspection cycles, and deployments. In pre-9/11 'peacetime' operations in the Guard F-16 & A-10 communities, the focus on training and innovation honed operators and maintainers with greater combat capabilities than their active duty counterparts. When the call went out for "long ball hitters" to fly counter-SCUD operations in 2003 over Iraq, an entire ANG wing, composed of multiple F-16 and A-10 units in their AEF window, went forward. Mission Support, Medical, and Combat Communications airmen brought decades of training experience to raised the tents, build the infrastructure, and create the support to build a bare base in the middle of desert, enabling 800,000lbs of ordnance to land on target.

One need not look further than today's headlines: North Korean saber-rattling of an impending nuclear test, trouble in eastern Ukraine, the first May Day parade in Moscow's Red Square since 1991, or drone strikes on Al Qaida-linked affiliates in Yemen to provide the focus and motivation to train hard as we enter a 'peacetime' training, inspection, and AEF cycle.