Oklahoma ANG TACPs support Air Defender 2023

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brigette Waltermire,
  • 137th Special Operations Wing

Members of the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron, Oklahoma National Guard, supported exercise Air Defender 2023, providing joint all-domain command and control to the combined force air component commander June 12-23, 2023, throughout the U.S. European Command area of responsibility.

This was the first time that tactical air control party specialists conducted mission-specific tasks designed to solve combined force air component commander strategic-level operational challenges. The 146th ASOS participated in this initiative with eight tactical air control party specialists and two special warfare mission support personnel.

“We saw there was no other representation or opportunity for other missions sets from our state to be in the exercise, so it was important to us to showcase OKNG Airmen and be part of the largest reinforcement air exercise since the foundation of NATO,” said Master Sgt. Paul Hebb, operations superintendent for the 146th ASOS.

Air Defender is a German Air Force-led effort that is the largest air mobility of NATO forces since the Berlin Airlift, with 10,000 participants and 250 aircraft from 25 allied and partner nations. Planning began five years ago for the exercise and was held in four different European countries.

The Air National Guard TACPs exercised a new mission set and integrated sensing and effect teams in the early phases of large-scale combat operations.

“For our unit, this is the first time we’ve gone out to test this concept on a large scale,” said Staff Sgt. Brock Williams, a 146th Air Support Operations Squadron tactical air control party specialist with the sensing and effect team (SET). “It will directly relate to our career field and our job specifically to prove that we can conduct reconnaissance on strategic level targets to move the phases of the war forward.”

The 146th ASOS was the only unit representing the Oklahoma Air National Guard in the exercise, operating from two different locations in Germany and one in Poland. The SET provides the air component commander with intelligence preparation of the battlefield, which identifies critical gaps in the command’s knowledge of the battlefield environment or threat situation.

“It’s been a good lesson in conducting that mission set in a foreign environment for us,” Williams continued. “We are in a country where we’re not familiar with the local customs, dress and appearance, or even the language. This was a lesson in what it might be like to conduct operations in a location where we are truly out of place.”

The 146th ASOS also provided close air support during a German-led air interdiction mission with German Tornado combat aircraft, demonstrating that an operation with multinational partners can morph into a CAS mission on dynamic targets.

“We are able to make critical contributions for our multi-national allies at a moment’s notice to defend shared values,” said Hebb. “We were able to mobilize with 24 hours’ notice and provided information on an unexpected but imminent threat to the ground force. This allowed the German air force to test how a ground assisted air interdiction mission could potentially flow into a CAS mission.”

Participation in this exercise continues a legacy of partnership with NATO allies and partner nations for the 146th ASOS. They historically have conducted JTAC training and integration missions due to the multiple air players that are members of NATO, including supporting training in Estonia, Germany, Poland and Oman, and soon to include U.S. Southern Command.

"In this exercise we are providing another capability to the combined force air component commander that they previously did not have in any other conflict,” said Hebb. “We can provide a tactical problem set to the enemy.”

This specific exercise demonstrates TACPs perform a role beyond expertise in close air support missions and is a U.S. Air Force specialty that is inherently joint. For CAS, TACPs advise commanders on how to integrate U.S. airpower, assist in the planning and execution of those mission sets, and exercise procedural control of aircraft as needed.

“The most important thing here is we are demonstrating we are much more than CAS experts,” said Senior Master Sgt. Nicholas Altgilbers, senior enlisted leader for the 146th ASOS. “We provide a much more valuable tool to the combined force air component commander, and that is the ability to extend the command and the control network by being sustainable, low visibility and multi-capable.”