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NEWS | Oct. 26, 2021

Michigan, a place for rapid innovation

By Bruce Huffman Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

After the official unveiling of the newly branded National All-Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC), which includes the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, and the Kelly Johnson Joint All-Domain Innovation Center (KJJADIC) at Selfridge Air National Guard Base (SANGB) in 2020, the Michigan National Guard (MING) has remained laser focused on increasing its training capabilities and innovation efforts. It’s established a living laboratory where new ideas and technologies are born, tested, and evaluated for the future war fight. As the battlefield expands across all domains, land, air, sea, space, and cyber Michigan is uniquely positioned to lead, and thanks to numerous industry partners, is amplifying its growing prominence in this field.

In mid-July the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (US NORTHCOM) conducted the third phase of a Global Information Dominance Experiment (GIDE3) at NADWC’s Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC) in Northern Michigan. This high-level Department of Defense (DoD) experiment tested the use of machine learning tools and artificial intelligence to create information dominance and all-domain awareness across multiple combatant commands.

The experiment included “live-fly” conflict events in which a military blue force faced off against red force threats. A cloud-based network, accessible in Michigan and at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, enabled participants to share data in real-time or near real-time, allowing senior leaders to make better informed decisions. This experiment highlights a fundamental shift in how information and data are now being used to inform decision making and create global integration.

NADWC’s 17,000 square mile military special use airspace, which extends over a portion of Lake Huron, gave GIDE3 pilots plenty of room to fly. NADWC was created to better leverage MING’s existing network of installations which have strong capabilities across multiple-domains supporting the KC-135 Stratotanker, A-10 Thunderbolt II, MQ-9 flight missions; cyber and signal operations; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR); and Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) operations. This network can also simulate electronic warfare and replicate a contested environment using multiple joint-threat emitters.

The NADWC has also supported testing of unmanned ground vehicle systems designed to enhance warfighter capabilities, and keep Soldiers out of harm’s way. Camp Grayling's 147,000 acres feature multi-use ranges and maneuver courses able to accommodate air-to-ground live fires, artillery, tanks, mortars and small arms. There is also a 10.2-mile live-fire convoy commander's reaction course, which teaches troops how to protect themselves from IED attacks and ambushes.

Engineers and technicians from the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) near Detroit, have been conducting field tests on autonomy-enabled ground vehicles at NADWC’s Camp Grayling since April 2021. The goal is to help determine the feasibility of integrating unmanned systems into military convoys and ground combat vehicle formations.

“GVSC leverages the facilities within the NADWC, which provide the perfect locations to test a wide range of robotic combat systems in different terrains,” said Kevin Mills, associate director for Ground Vehicle Robotics at GVSC. “NADWC’s Camp Grayling gives our engineers and industry partners numerous options to explore the full performance capabilities of next generation unmanned ground systems in our own backyard. Grayling’s extremely challenging off-road terrain and vast secure live-fire test areas allow us to push experimental prototypes to their limits and safely evaluate weapons systems on combat robotics.”
Michigan is the nexus that brings new and emerging technologies and warfighters from around the globe together, and the NADWC and KJJADIC are the fuel that drives rapid innovation forward. In August 2021, about 5,100 participants from 20 states and coalition partners participated in Northern Strike (NS) 21-2. NS is one of the DoD’s largest joint reserve component readiness exercises, and offers opportunities for multicomponent, multinational and interagency partners to conduct realistic joint all-domain training.

NS received national media coverage when four Air Force A-10s, and two Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) C-146 Wolfhounds conducted a controlled landing on a Michigan state highway near the NADWC’s Alpena CRTC.

This history-making proof of concept had never been done on a U.S. highway during training before. The ability to land military aircraft in austere conditions, refuel, and forward arm them anywhere-anytime was accomplished with the assistance of new technologies from industry partners working closely with MING.

According to Chris Wallower, an engineer at Persistent Systems, the experimental Michigan All-Domain Network (MADN) was used during the landing to link data from roadside cameras, aircraft audio, tactical radios, and first responder communications together into one unified system, so participants could see and hear everything in near real-time. “MADN 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,” said Wallower.

Air Force Multi-Domain Warfare Officers agree that the development of advanced cyber and space domain capabilities are necessary to deter, disrupt, or deny near-peer adversaries, and that close relationships with industry help speed-up critical innovations.

Ryan Farris, co-founder and chief financial officer at Orbital Effects, affirmed integrating the space domain into training at NADWC’s Camp Grayling is necessary for improving force readiness. Orbital Effects offers near-real time direct downlink of satellite radar imagery and intelligence data from space to tactical user within minutes of overflight.

“Space is vital to national security,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Rogers, adjutant general and director of Michigan's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Our partnership with Orbital Effects demonstrates an enduring solution for the DoD Joint Fires applications by integrating the space domain from joint targeting to battle damage assessment.”
The military’s relationship with the industrial base in southeast Michigan, which dates back to World War II and the establishment of the arsenal of democracy, remains intact to this day. More than just the automotive capitol of the world, the greater Detroit region offers robust engineering, research and design, and advanced manufacturing capabilities in aerospace, and space.

In the 1940’s, America’s manufacturing capabilities gave it a competitive advantage which helped lead the Allies to victory in World War II. Fast forward 75 years, and the manufacturing playing field has been leveled. In some instances, the production capabilities of our nation’s adversaries have even surpassed our own.

“We’ll just have to do things more efficiently than everyone else,” said Air Force Col. Chris McDonald, director of the KJJADIC. “The goal is to think outside the box and find new and creative ways to solve problems. There’s no step-by-step process to innovation, but our AIM HI Certified Professional Innovator program (CPI) is helping lay that foundation.”
The CPI program MING offers consists of 200 hours of specialized innovation training that is completed both in-person and virtually. In June 2021, a group of Air Force and Army service members, along with a few individuals from other government agencies, met in Washington, D.C., for an in-person innovation training.

According to McDonald, the classes are mostly comprised of mid-level service members. “We know senior leaders develop strategy, but it’s the mid-level rapid innovation teams that can actually ply their strategic imperatives and get the jobs done,” said McDonald.

“In-person training in Washington, D.C., allowed us to bring in some high-level speakers, and also have a group of senior leaders participate in a Leadership Masters Class,” said McDonald. “The objective of the Masters Class is to teach our senior leaders what to expect, and how to form teams where members feel free to share ideas and concepts, fail fast if necessary, then re-adjust to solve the problem.”

The ongoing innovation efforts across Michigan’s National Guard aim to establish an unprecedented culture focused on setting the tone and pace for future warfare training opportunities, gaining cutting edge mission sets, and finding mechanisms and partnering opportunities to increase capabilities throughout the DoD.

"The Michigan National Guard is building rapid innovation capabilities to solve problems in real time," said Brig. Gen. Bryan Teff, assistant adjutant general and commander of the Michigan Air National Guard. "Our aim is to build ecosystems of innovation, and a force of highly skilled innovators across the DoD so we can keep building and demonstrating those capabilities, even while training."