Guard members demonstrate digitally aided personnel recovery operations
By SOF Editor on Thu, 11/12/2009 - 11:05am
MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. (AFNS) -- California Air National Guard members based here successfully demonstrated coalition personnel recovery operations using net enabled data link capabilities during the U.S. Joint Forces Command Exercise Bold Quest 2009 Oct. 27 to Nov. 5. The 129th Rescue Wing sent 23 Guard members and an MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft equipped with a prototype situation awareness system during Bold Quest 2009 to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., to assess technical and procedural solutions to improve the combat effectiveness of coalition forces, according to the JFCOM Web site. In the past, rescuers were constrained to voice only communications in their lifesaving missions. Air Guard rescue forces responding to Hurricane Ike last year identified the data link capability as being the highest priority improvement for homeland emergency response operations on a large scale. "Voice communications have always been an Achilles heel in the coordination of time-sensitive rescue operations," said Lt. Col. Steve Butow, the deputy director of the 129th Operations Group and deployed commander during Bold Quest 2009. "The voice communications frequencies rapidly become saturated during disasters because of the volume of information being passed." The 129th RQW's operational experience provided momentum for generating a data link solution that underwent an operational utility evaluation in April at the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Test Center in Tucson, Ariz. "The Air Guard has taken a lead role in the test and evaluation of situational awareness capabilities, enabling personnel recovery for the warfighter and for homeland emergency response operations," Colonel Butow said. Testing the Air Guard's situational awareness capabilities in digitally aided personnel recovery, Bold Quest 2009 was an opportunity to integrate data link-enabled air and ground forces from joint and coalition components in a simulated battlespace, Colonel Butow said. The architecture, forces and concept of operations were representative of Afghanistan, and scenarios involved austere, woodland and urban environments. The 129th RQW rescue MC-130P crews flew eight missions as airborne mission commander supporting more than 20 personnel recovery events. Airborne mission commander duties were performed by combat rescue officers who coordinated recovery efforts with joint terminal attack controllers on the ground. "The crews were developing new tactics, techniques and procedures pretty much every time they flew," said Maj. Jose Agredano, the 129th Operations Group chief of tactics and deployed director of operations during Bold Quest 2009. "The system is new to rescue so we were literally discovering different ways to utilize SADL every event." The personnel recovery events involved the employment of a variety of aircraft and forces, including F-15E Strike Eagles, Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons, Canadian air force F-18 Hornets, and quick reaction forces from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division. According to Colonel Butow, the digitally aided personnel recovery events produced the following achievements: -- Data link minimized voice communications, allowing more effective coordination of recovery tasks. -- The rescue MC-130P maintained superior situational awareness in the terminal area and coordinated critical support requirement with the air support operations center. -- The rescue MC-130P streamed secure video to the JTAC during recoveries, increasing the ground force commander's situational awareness and relieving intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets that would normally perform this function. -- Precise position information and identification was digitally distributed over land and air data link networks enabling the rescue MC-130P to coordinate recovery as the airborne mission commander. -- A personnel recovery coordination cell located within the air support operations center provided real-time intelligence and command and control information to the airborne mission commander. -- NASA COSPAS search and rescue satellite-aided tracking was used to collect beacon activations and provide GEO coordinate information to the Bold Quest 2009 command and control network. Because of these accomplishments, all members of the personnel recovery task force shared a common operating picture enabling unity of effort, Colonel Butow said. "The Bold Quest experience has proven invaluable in assessing current capabilities and defining requirements for the rescue H/MC-130 role in digitally aided personnel recovery. " "The spin-off benefit is that we have gained a new capability for wide area catastrophic events such as hurricanes or earthquakes," he added.