Exercise AGILE BLIZZARD UNIFIED VISION executes Agile Combat Employment

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Haley Malay
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – “After decades of near-continuous combat operations, we must align Air Force processes and force presentation to better support readiness, the generation of combat power, and warfighting,” said Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, Air Force Chief of Staff. “Innovative Airmen are diligently building better ways to present Air Forces to the Joint Force.”

In response to CSAF’s call to “Accelerate Change or Lose,” Exercise Agile Blizzard Unified Vision (ABUV) took place simultaneously at Coldfoot, Alaska; Comox, British Columbia, Canada; and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, June 12-23, 2023.

ABUV intended to project Agile Combat Employment operations and capabilities throughout the Arctic Region. Exercise Unified Vision aimed to improve interoperability amongst NATO and its member states by aligning joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities.

In support of ABUV, Air Combat Command partnered with Air Force Reserve Command, Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy units to reposition 153 Airmen to each of the three exercise locations.

Supporting aircraft included A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, PUMA Unmanned Aerial Systems, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemasters, C-5 Galaxies and RCAF CP-140 Auroras. The RCN also deployed three Maritime Coastal Defense Vessels, displacing 970 tons each. Airmen came from 31 units across ACC and AFRC to provide air traffic control, force support, security forces, combat communications, expeditionary communications, cyberspace, intelligence, photojournalism and information warfare operations to ABUV.

In Coldfoot, Alaska, the 55th and 35th Combat Communications Squadrons (XCOMM) and 52nd Network Warfare Squadron operated communications equipment for the first time above the Arctic Circle. The squadrons successfully linked high frequency radios, radio frequency monitoring systems, and a Starlink mobile Wi-Fi system, and the team made simultaneous contact with counterparts at Tinker AFB and Comox, Canada.

“When we went north of the Arctic Circle, we tested some equipment which shouldn’t have worked but did,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Ortiz, 689th Network Operations Squadron chief of standards and evaluations. “We overcame some network connectivity problems, and we were successful in all the operations we set out to do.”

At Comox, British Columbia, Canada, medical technicians, Tactical Air Control Party members, and combat communicators built a communications infrastructure connecting the three operating locations. A small team of 55 Airmen positioned to Comox to integrate new technology such as the Multi-Purpose Expeditionary Platform, a vehicle capable of being configured as a forklift, munitions loader, aircraft tug and more, and a Battlefield Information Collections and Exploitation System while also practicing base security, medical response and personnel recovery.

Additionally, A-10s from the 23rd Wing flew strike coordination and reconnaissance missions in support of the RCN Maritime Coastal Defense Vehicle operating in the Straits of Georgia. The A-10s provided exercised counter-maritime strike tactics to safeguard the vulnerable ships as they completed their assigned tasks. Joint Terminal Attack Controllers ensured deconfliction in a highly-constrained airspace, allowing the “Hawgs” to pursue their targets. This marks the first time that the RCN had worked in close concert with the USAF for such missions and was groundbreaking in coordinating air and maritime operations between NATO partners.

In support of JISR, Exercise Unified Vision collected full-motion video via the RCAF’s CP-140 Aurora, partnering with Department of the Air Force units to transmit the collected data to NATO allies and partner nations at intelligence centers around the world.

“Combining multidomain and coalition forces to exercise the ACE scheme of maneuver provides valuable insights into how far we have come as an Air Force to meet the needs of any future peer conflict, and ensure our readiness for the pacing threat,” said Maj. James Black, ACC Agile Battle Lab (ABL) director of operations. “Executing so many complex actions simultaneously proves we can not only survive, but fight and ultimately win in a challenging operational environment.”

At Tinker AFB, the 35th CBCS housed 160 Airmen supporting multiple airlifts on and off the installation. A 910th Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules performed a drop of nine 824th Base Defense Squadron Airmen onto Clinton Sherman Airport, Oklahoma, on June 13. The BDS drop exercised the Airmen’s ability to maneuver into an unknown location, secure the airfield, and establish a contingency location for continued operations. Several 7th Air Support Operations Squadron TACP and 507th Security Forces Airmen integrated with the BDS members to execute an overnight operation.

“Within six hours of planning, the A-Staff found a solution [to the airdrop] and we were on our way to Clinton Sherman Airport,” said Master Sgt. Tyler Martin, 35 CBCS plans noncommissioned officer in charge. “They figured out how to work together as a team, address issues quickly, and essentially do ACE.”

The following day, a conflict scenario took place at Cushing Municipal Airport in which BDS, ASOS, and SFS members performed small unit tactics while testing the imagery collection capabilities of the PUMA-Unmanned Aerial System.

Members from the 910th AW supported several exercise aerial spray missions the week of June 19-22. The 910th AW is the Department of Defense’s only large area fixed-wing aerial spray capability to control disease-carrying insects, pest insects, undesirable vegetation and disperse oil spills in large bodies of water. To support ABUV, the C-130 Hercules aircrew sprayed 1,800 gallons of water on exercise vehicles to provide simulated cleansing from chemicals.

“We were able to compare two types of configurations for aerial spraying. We’ll, over time, compare the two and decide which methods are better for which types of products,” said Col. Mark Breidenbaugh, AFRC command entomologist. “Integration with these type of units, particularly combat communications, and looking at how all these different units were able to come together seamlessly and support each other’s missions, paves the way to how the Air Force fights.”

The many moving pieces and persons of this exercise employed agile operations in several operating sites.

“The importance of partners and the continued pursuit of building a strong agile joint planning effort cannot be underestimated. Exercise ABUV focused on ACE planning, bringing the future to today’s fight with technology upgrades for BICES, a more robust C4ISR picture, artificial intelligence, machine learning and remotely-operated equipment courtesy of our partners and Agile Battle Lab,” said Lt. Col. Nathaniel Ferraco, 35th CBCS commander and ABUV director.

“Using the total force concept: reserve, active and guard members from all services and different specialties created a holistic, well-rounded approach to problem solving and delivered robust courses of action which would not have manifested with singular vantage points of the problem set.”