The District of Columbia Air National Guard designed and hosted Guardian Shield 20-02 Sept. 21-25, the largest live-fly cruise missile defense exercise ever held by the Department of Defense.
“The D.C. Air National Guard is our nation’s fighter Air Defense Center of Excellence, and we are tackling head-on U.S. Northern Command’s number one mission,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Wilson, commander of the 121st Fighter Squadron, 113th Wing, DCANG. “Our goal was to create a training environment as realistic as possible that could test our ability to execute a critical homeland defense mission here in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.”
Guardian Shield 20-02 took place at multiple locations including Joint Base Andrews and Naval Air Station Patuxent, Maryland, and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. The multi-service, mass-participant exercise tested cruise missile defense tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) designed to meet the NORTHCOM mission of deterring, detecting and defeating threats to the United States. Outcomes from the exercise will help develop and refine multi-domain and multi-service cruise missile defense expertise and tactics that can be called upon by Combatant Commands when the need arises.
“Guardian Shield, highlights the power of imagination,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard. “Our D.C. team is made up of not only profoundly-dedicated military members but also true experts in their craft who continually push us to our best limits. This constant desire to be better every day truly epitomizes the ethos behind the D.C. National Guard’s Air Defense Center of Excellence.”
Guardian Shield tested agile combat employment concepts, or in other words how quickly the DCANG could send a team into a contingency environment and then rearm and refuel vital aircraft to send them back into defended air space. It also integrated command and control elements and ground-based air defenses. The Atlantic Test Range, located at NAS Patuxent, provided a Live-Virtual-Constructive test environment using information from the U.S. Navy’s Surface Combat Systems Center at Wallops Island and the Federal Aviation Administration’s radars, making this exercise a true joint endeavor.
“Joint interoperability is key to the current and future homeland defense mission,” said Walker. “This exercise and proof of concept enables us to prevail in an increasingly competitive environment.”
The scenario involved the simulated defense of Wallops Island from an adversary cruise missile attack using fighter aircraft. Each day, the scenario was made more difficult in order to validate TTPs against current threats while also building tactics to address emerging adversary capabilities.
“NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility served as the simulated austere environment where we had our expert maintenance personnel rapidly regenerate aircraft by refueling and rearming them,” said Wilson. “We tested how quickly we could get those aircraft airborne again in order to generate combat air power in a contingency environment. One of the aspects of this exercise that is so exciting is we are bringing on a brand new aircraft radar capability, testing out our TTPs and then showcasing what our current capabilities are.”
DCANG F-16 Fighting Falcons were recently equipped with the AN/APG-83 Active Electronically Scanned Array, or AESA, radar. The radar upgrade extends the operational viability and reliability of that fleet while providing pilots with 5th-generation fighter radar capabilities to defend our nation’s airspace, meeting NORTHCOM’s Joint Emergent Operational Need for homeland defense.
Wilson said the exercise planners worked hand-in-hand with the test community to validate and further develop emerging tactics on cruise missile defense.
“Normally, new technology is tested and tactics manuals written prior to being fielded to operational units,” said Wilson. “This is unique because the fielding, testing and development is happening at the same time.”
Altogether, more than 50 aircraft from Air Force active duty and Air National Guard units participated in the large-scale exercise across 40,000 nautical square miles of airspace. F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Eagles and F-22 Raptors played the role of Blue Air, or friendly aircraft who defended the airspace. While T-38 Talons and L-159 Honey Badgers played the role of Red Air, where they simulated up to 80+ cruise missiles, as cruise missile surrogates, per two-hour vulnerability period.
“Partners from South Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts and the Virginia Air National Guard, as well as active duty aircraft from Langley Air Force Base, participated each day of the exercise,” said Wilson. “Another important element were the Air Force Reserve tankers from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas that included KC-135s and the new KC-46 showcasing their capability by refueling National Guard platforms for the first time in an operational exercise.”
Guardian Shield 20-02 would not have been possible without the support of leadership from the D.C. National Guard, the 113th Wing, the U.S. Navy, the National Guard Bureau and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which includes 1st Air Force. Guardian Shield 21-1 is tentatively being planned for some time in 2021.
“Without the support and teamwork of organizations such as NORAD, NASA and the Navy, this exercise would not have been possible,” said Walker. “This is about partnerships, relationships, collaboration and integration, working together in the defense of our homeland.”