102nd Air Operations Group participates in AUSTERE CHALLENGE - 10

  • Published
  • By Capt. Brendan Simison
  • 102nd Air Operations Group
The 102nd Air Operations Group (AOG) of the Massachusetts Air National Guard participated in the joint exercise 'Austere Challenge - 10', May 6-7.
What made this effort unique is that the 102nd AOG seamlessly integrated to exercise operations from their home station, a first for the Air National Guard.

Austere Challenge is an annual U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) scheduled and executed multi-tiered command and control exercise, focused on Joint Task Force (JTF) certification. The exercise scenario incorporates the unique capabilities of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to provide global kinetic or non-kinetic effects as required to support a conflict anywhere in the world. For USSTRATCOM's Joint Functional Component Command--Global Strike (JFCC-GS), this might include the use of Air Force long range bombers such as the B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit or B-52 Stratofortress.

For the first time, the 102nd AOG together with their aligned active duty unit, Air Force Global Strike Command's 608th Air and Space Operations Center (608th AOC) based at Barksdale AFB, La., supported the USSTRATCOM tasking by executing a Time Sensitive Planning (TSP) event through integrated operations. The units worked together to analyze and plan possible long range strike missions while bridging the 1,231 miles between Barksdale AFB and Otis ANGB, with an integrated computer planning and analysis network and the strong personal relationships the units have developed.

"This exercise gave the 102nd a chance to demonstrate an idea they have helped pioneer, distributed operations, and commanders at the highest levels were impressed," said Col. Michael Tichenor, 608th AOC incoming commander.

The 102nd AOG provided the 608th AOC with intelligence and mission analysis support but their primary role for the exercise was to propose and develop suggested "Global Strike" Courses of Action (COAs) for presentation to USSTRATCOM and USEUCOM commanders. In a real world event, the COAs would also be presented to the Secretary of Defense.

"Our role was to support the mission analysis cell at the 608th AOC as well as lead the COA Development Team," said Col. Frank Aflague, 102nd AOG Strategy Division chief.

"The learning curve was steep but we really pulled together and did the 'j-o-b,'" said Capt. Mike Drake, 102nd AOG course of action development team. Captain Drake was an airline pilot who recently returned to service in the Air National Guard after a 10-year break from active duty.
The 102nd AOG exceeded every expectation in this endeavor; they successfully developed an executable plan to support a USEUCOM requirement halfway around the world. Additionally, after an unplanned computer outage at Barksdale AFB, the 102nd AOG demonstrated their capability to provide not only augmentation but also a degree of redundancy in the critical AOC weapon system.

"I am so proud of the 102nd AOG Time Sensitive Planning Cell. This was an incredible undertaking and we asked a lot from our team. As usual, they knocked it out of the park," said Lt. Col. Martin Richard, 102nd AOG course of action development lead.

"I really wanted to lean forward and show the leadership at STRATCOM and 8th Air Force how far we've come," said Col. Rich Sweeten, 102nd AOG commander.

Colonel Sweeten and Col. Steve Luxion, 608th AOC commander, worked closely to ensure members of the Barksdale unit who visited Otis during a recent Air National Guard Unit Training Assembly (UTA) weekend provided an intensive training program in the days prior to the exercise.

"This concept of Total Force Integration within the AOC weapons system has been a long time in the making," said Colonel Luxion. "It was great to see it in action."

Collectively, the 102nd AOG and the 608th AOC provide a more robust system and an amplified level of expertise to the USSTRATCOM commander. During the debriefing at the end of the exercise, USSTRATCOM reported that "this was the best TSP event we have seen."

In the future, both units look to bolster their ties and capabilities through a continued integrated partnership in every aspect of running an AOC.

"This exercise was validation of the tremendous efforts this unit has put into standing up the AOG and proves that AOC integration with the Guard and Reserves is a winning combination," said Col. Timothy Estep, 101st Air Operations Squadron commander.