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A Critical Battlespace: Guard Units Train on Electromagnetic Warfare

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Erich B. Smith,
  • National Guard Bureau

BANGOR, Maine – Sure and swift.

Those words, embroidered on unit patches worn by Airmen with the Florida Air National Guard’s 114th Electromagnetic Warfare Squadron during a training exercise recently, summarized the mindset of those who operate in the electromagnetic spectrum — the invisible battlespace of radio waves and energy.

That spectrum access enables effective operations in all warfighting domains. And electromagnetic warfare, according to exercise officials, ensures certain space-based units can protect and support the U.S. warfighter’s ability to sense, command, control, communicate and share information across the battlespace while removing an adversary’s ability to do the same.

In the relentless pursuit of outperforming strategic competitors, Master Sgt. Cliffton Bryant, a mission support flight chief with the 114th EWS, confidently affirmed the “Sure and Swift” motto is without question.

“We want to be ‘sure’ on what we are targeting and ‘swift’ during our mission and not expose ourselves,” said Bryant.

Optimizing that capability was part of ThunderMoose, an exercise that brought Air National Guard units from Florida, Ohio, Hawaii and North Carolina to the 101st Air Refueling Wing at Bangor Air National Guard Base, Maine, to work alongside Space Force counterparts.

“The National Guard has been conducting the space electromagnetic warfare mission since 2014, and we’ve been manned, trained and equipped to serve in this role,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Surman, the operations officer with the 114th EWS.

National Guard officials said the Guard provides 60 percent of all space electromagnetic warfare capability to the Space Force’s Space Operations Command.

The nearly week-long training event demonstrated and validated the ability to airlift a new electromagnetic warfare system while establishing a base location — including satellite communications, radio frequency, intelligence, security and aerospace ground equipment specialists.

While the 114th EWS prepares for possible conflict in this unseen battlespace, Surman noted how consequential the domain is, because of its mass accessibility by virtually anyone with a wireless device.

“They’re operating within the electromagnetic spectrum, transmitting signals that enable global communications, sharing pictures, and navigation,” he explained.

Capt. Wesley Jones, an operations planner with the 114 EWS, said ThunderMoose’s success depended not just on individual proficiencies but also on Airmen’s ability to effectively communicate while working as a team.

“Collaboration is imperative here – every Air Force job and every unit represented plays a key role in ensuring that we’re able to perform [our tasks] during this exercise,” said Jones.

Planning for possible future electromagnetic warfare effects was one takeaway of the training event, he said.

“The next generation of our equipment is going to be much smaller,” said Jones. “So, we brought a subset of our current system that can be exercised in a stand-alone capacity to test it and get an idea of what it’s going to be like to deploy the next generation of our system.”

That means striving to be a small, agile and lean unit, Jones added.

“So, if a future conflict kicks off, we will be prepared to rapidly deploy with a lighter load and smaller footprint to perform the mission required for Agile Combat Employment,” he said. Air Force officials define ACE as an “operational scheme of maneuver to increase survivability while generating combat power.”

Tech. Sgt. Richard Coler, a team lead and satellite communications specialist at the Florida Air Guard’s 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron, said that while his unit gets plenty of “real-world” experience during hurricane season, training with an electromagnetic warfare squadron ups their game.

“For us, it’s good to link up with other units that may need a certain piece of equipment that we don’t often get to utilize,” said Coler, whose unit ensures uninterrupted communications. “[Our training] really comes to fruition when we get to provide capabilities for another unit.”

In light of the technological wonders required to operate in the electromagnetic spectrum, Air Guard members also went back to the basics of the field: setting up shelters and basic infrastructure at the exercise site.

“It’s kind of like organized chaos,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Jones, a radio frequency transmission specialist with the 114th EWS. “Right out of the gate, we’re building tents, getting our power going, building our antennas and running around in different directions.”

In the end, Jones said it’s a team effort that sees the mission through.

“How do you get the communication capabilities when you’re out somewhere where you can’t just plug a [cord] into a wall?” he said. “And that’s where our unit[s] fit in.”

Air Guard members at ThunderMoose also used civilian experience that brought an added dimension to electromagnetic warfare.

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Valenti, with the 114th EWS, said his civilian job as a capsule builder for a spacecraft company helps leverage what he does for the Guard.

“[My civilian role] is very technical and hands-on, and in my career field in aerospace ground equipment in the military, it’s a lot of hands-on activity as well,” said Valenti. “And it works out well together that I have both of these careers [in the same field].”

While highlighting the airlift capabilities of electromagnetic warfare assets and rapid setup of an operational base, Surman, the operations officer, said ThunderMoose also emphasized a collaborative spirit.

“This is about continuing to make the connections with each other, learning from each other, understanding the problems that we face so we can help each other as Guardsmen,” he said, adding the units showed how “integrated Guard Airmen can execute space electromagnetic warfare missions.”