ALPENA, Mich. –
Chris Wallower has the privilege of having lived in two worlds. In one life, he was an active duty Air Force tactical air control party specialist entrusted to embed with frontline warfighters and call in their close-air support at the right place at the right time. Now, the former Airman is a sales engineer with a civilian technology services company and is responsible for showcasing synergistic government solutions for tomorrow’s battlefield. His expertise and experience brought him to the battlespace of Northern Strike 21 in Northern Michigan — a place where synergy intersects with innovation for tomorrow’s war fight.
For Wallower, the exercise meant an opportunity to contribute technology and perspective to help form and create best solutions for the government.
“We believe that the relationship between the government and contracting companies or industry needs to be a conversation.” Wallower said. “It should never be a one-way street, because industry has innovative ideas that should be implemented, but at the same time, the requirements need to come from the government.”
The venture saw him proof-of-concepting what’s being called the Michigan All-Domain Network (MADN) — a way to connect information including location data, audio, video and sensor data across 148,000 acres of maneuver space and 17,000 square miles of special-use airspace.
“When you say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a network. What can we put on it?” the answer is ‘yes,’” Wallower said.
A tactical demonstration on the network was used Aug. 5 when the National All Domain Warfighting Center conducted a controlled landing of four Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt II and two Air Force Special Operations Command C-146 Wolfhound aircraft on a U.S. highway for the first time in history. Wallower’s company used the MADN to combine hasty roadside cameras, aircraft audio, tactical radios, first responders communications and more into one system for a unified common operating picture. Those facilitating the unprecedented test of Agile Combat Employment were able to see everything and hear everything.
Wallower said the innovation enables the warfighter by facilitating the free flow of information from the tactical operations center on high all the way down to the tip of the spear ground user.
Concepts of high technology and innovation may call back to Silicon Valley or AFWERX. So, how has Northern Michigan become a hub for integrating new operational warfighting concepts?
"Michigan's unique geography, airspace, ranges and growing connection to the defense industry make it an ideal environment for all-domain training and operations, and we are developing those capabilities in order to undertake those missions,” said Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, the adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
The mission of the National All Domain Warfighting Center — made up of Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center — is to maximize combat readiness by providing adaptable and cost-effective training. This training ranges from individualized tactical skills to near-peer contested threat and combined arms environments. Northern Strike 21-2, which took place July 31 through Aug. 14, brought together more than approximately 5,100 military personnel from 20 states and four coalition countries.
An annual staple of the National All Domain Warfighting Center is the Northern Strike exercise, a joint, multinational exercise accredited by the Joint National Training Capability.
"This exercise serves as a great opportunity for our multicomponent, multinational and interagency partners to develop into efficient, joint warfighters,” Rogers said. “Training like we may be called on to fight is critical in preparing to confront a near-peer adversary in the future."
Since its first iteration in 2012, Northern Strike has become one of the Department of Defense's largest reserve component readiness exercises.
“It’s a very rare place in the country, and even in the world, where you have so many people coming to the same area, so many different types of training environments, so many different activities going on, that are all geographically dispersed, and there’s a mixture of both Air Force and Army,” Wallower said. “That’s really the hardest of all scenarios. So, if you can solve it for Michigan, if you can sell it at Northern Strike, then you can apply it anywhere.”