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Connecticut Air Guard Unit Tests Battle Management System

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Matthew Lucibello,
  • 130th Public Affairs Detachment

NIANTIC, Conn. - Airmen from the 103rd Air Control Squadron, Connecticut Air National Guard, mounted their vehicles early March 5 and braved rainstorms to convoy from their home station in Orange to Camp Nett in Niantic to conduct Exercise Agile Panda.

The goal of Agile Panda, an exercise five months in the making, was to field test the Tactical Operations Center - Light, or TOC-L, the latest, most modular air battle management system undergoing evaluation within the U.S. Air Force for use by control and reporting centers like those operated by the 103rd ACS.

Tactical Operations Centers, or TOCs, are command and control nodes usually composed of multiple tents and or tactical vehicles. They accommodate communications and data collection platforms for use by military commanders and staff to guide tactical units.

If adopted, TOC-L will replace legacy systems and their accompanying components, such as older versions of the AN/TYQ-23A Tactical Air Operations Module, used throughout the Air Force.

“[The AN/TYQ-23A Tactical Air Operations Module, or 23 Alpha] is a mobile air control system. It uses something called the MSCT, which is a Multi-Source Correlator Tracker, which takes in radar feeds from any surrounding areas like the FAA or a local Tipsy 75 (AN/TPS-75) tactical radar,” said Connecticut Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Brian Wilson, a computer maintainer with the 103rd ACS. “It takes all the tracks and correlates them into a singular picture that [flight controllers in air battle management] can use in order to perform missions like establishing a no-fly zone, midair refueling [orbits], surveillance operations, [coordinating] fighter strikes and [facilitating deep strike] bombing missions.”

The immediate need for a new TOC system comes as the Air Force better prepares itself to fight and win in large-scale combat operations where units would have to rapidly deploy to and from contested, degraded environments against near-peer adversaries.

There are only 16 systems spread out among the force, two of which Air National Guard units are testing — the 103rd ACS in Connecticut, the first Air Guard unit to receive TOC-L in December, and the 128th Air Control Squadron out of Wisconsin.

Exercise Agile Panda marks the first time the 103rd ACS has tested the system outside its normal base of operations and used it to perform the unit’s primary function, controlling live aircraft conducting aerial warfare training.

“The Maine Air National Guard is flying a KC-135, the New Hampshire Air National Guard, a KC-46, the [103rd Airlift] Wing a C-130, and the Massachusetts Air National Guard, the 104th Fighter Wing, is putting up eight F-15s,” said Connecticut Air National Guard Maj. J. Seth Bopp, director of operations for the 103rd Air Control Squadron. “All of these units are supporting the 103rd ACS and, more broadly, the testing of the TOC-L system by flying in the Whiskey 105 airspace (a warning area and military training airspace in the vicinity of Long Island, New York) and conducting a mission in order to showcase and prove the capabilities of the TOC-L.”

For the exercise, the 103rd ACS battle management team split into two groups; the first stayed behind at the unit’s base in Orange to operate the legacy system, the AN/TYQ-23A Tactical Air Operations Module, while a small team of 11 Airmen prepared to fly with the TOC-L system via a Connecticut Army National Guard CH-47 transport helicopter from the 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment. However, a rainstorm grounded the helicopter. 

The team loaded the system into a light medium tactical vehicle and drove to Camp Nett. On-site, they deployed their antenna systems and set up six of their scopes, specialized systems to receive radar data from the antennas, which is how aircraft are tracked when controlling airspace, all within 65 minutes.

“We started the clock as soon as we started pulling the equipment cases off of the 5-ton,” Bopp said. “That’s getting the equipment off the truck, into the building, out of the cases, set up, connections established and erecting a 60-foot antenna.”

TOC-L is designed to enhance the combat capabilities of command and control units and be versatile and scalable up or down to meet mission needs and operational environment constraints. By condensing the equipment needed, TOC-L minimizes the Air Force footprint on the battlefield, making units harder to detect and target. Units can also create and spread out multiple smaller decentralized TOCs, further minimizing the footprint.

“It’s a new, slimmer, agile version of the tactical operations module, the 23 Alpha,” Wilson said. 

The system can be transported in small Pelican cases by helicopter or truck, uses commercial power, and doesn’t require much cooling.

TOC-L has a new antenna and communications equipment suite, including an integrated Starlink system for long-haul communications. TOC-L enables controllers to pull radar data from the cloud rather than via cables. 

“From a radio perspective, it is cool because we have the newest, latest and greatest radio equipment, the PRC-167’s bring a very modern communications capability as opposed to some of our legacy radios,” said Connecticut Air National Guard Master Sgt. Jesse Barna, the radio superintendent of the 103rd ACS. 

The 103rd ACS is implementing Increment One, the first step in testing the TOC-L. The 103rd ACS will also field the system at larger training exercises such as Sentry Savannah in Georgia, the Air National Guard’s premier defensive counter-air exercise that has previously involved more than 1,000 personnel and 50 airframes.