JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Detachment 1, 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) participated in Exercise POLAR QUAKE Jan. 11 through 13 throughout Alaska.
POLAR QUAKE was held at stations on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Eielson Air Force Base, and Utqiaġvik, and was designed as a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the Tactical Air Control Party’s (TACP) ability to provide a command and control, or C2, network to enhance the ability to find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess in the Arctic environment.
The TACP mission set provides an air-to-ground communication link that supports joint integration and precision strike redundancy. This supports a combined forces air component commander’s mission by providing real-time updates, which enhances decision-making capabilities.
“As TACPs, our mission revolves around two primary functions - providing forward command and control for higher headquarters and integrating airpower and joint forces,” said Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Jenn, the 3rd ASOS senior enlisted leader. “This exercise challenged our command and control function, which is something that hasn’t been as commonly requested in recent conflicts, and may have been a capability forgotten by some. With the recent Department of Defense and Air Force Arctic Strategy, and the new Agile Combat Employment concept, our career field has the opportunity to show our other core capabilities.”
Jenn said that the training also demonstrated the ASOS’ ability to conduct the ACE concept in the Arctic by testing their ability to provide fire support from any aircraft, indirect fire platform, or naval surface fire support if the situation called for it.
The ACE concept is based on the idea of small groups of multi-capable Airmen spread out over a large austere area to improve maneuverability.
“General [Charles] Brown recently signed Air Force Doctrine Note 1-21, which says ‘ACE consists of five core elements: posture, C2, movement and maneuver, protection, and sustainment,’” Jenn said. “Exercise POLAR QUAKE demonstrated that the TACP weapon system can employ our two primary missions of C2 and integrating airpower and joint fires in support of three of the five core elements anywhere in the [area of responsibility].”
During the exercise, TACP’s tested their abilities in the Arctic by creating C2 hubs at their stations, allowing them to conduct training missions and provide real-time situational awareness and battlefield updates. This training, with support of the 5th ASOS and 25th ASOS, allowed them to pass radio messages from Utqiaġvik to an air operations center in Hawaii, more than 3,000 miles away, within minutes.
Airmen with the ASOS also practiced Humvee maneuvers near the Arctic circle, airborne operations at JBER, and mounted and dismounted movements near Utqiaġvik. Utqiaġvik, formerly known as Barrow, is the northernmost town in the U.S., and hosted the exercise’s all-weather manned sensor, providing real-time situational awareness for the Air Operations Center.
Throughout POLAR QUAKE, the focus on the Arctic and the cold stayed at the forefront of the 3rd ASOS Airmen’s minds.
“Conducting challenging training in the extreme environment of the arctic puts our training and equipment to the test and requires careful planning of all components of an operation,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Travis Hunt, the 3rd ASOS Operations Flight commander. “Fortunately we are in the perfect location to develop and maintain the knowledge and skills needed to overcome these challenges in training so that if the time comes to fight in the Arctic we can focus on the enemy and not just the environment.”
Alaska’s lack of infrastructure also posed an obstacle for the ASOS to overcome.
“With the limited infrastructure common in the Arctic, we needed to test current equipment to identify its effectiveness through the extreme Alaska environment,” Jenn said. “The extreme temperatures make the simplest tasks more challenging, which can quickly escalate to threaten mission accomplishment, or create life-or-death scenarios due to difficult terrain and vast distances away from support.”
Throughout the challenges the unit faced, they learned key areas to focus on training.
“During this exercise and others we have completed this year we have continued raising the bar for our team,” Hunt said. “By providing challenging problem sets that require adaptive problem solving, we are building new skillsets and identifying areas that still require development.”
Overall, Jenn said the exercise demonstrated the TACP’s ability to work in a contested degraded environment.
“As an individual, it was awesome to see our team take on the challenge, and know success is good, but friction and failures throughout the exercise are also successes, by highlighting deficiencies and areas we need to improve upon,” said Jenn.