Michigan National Guard goes All-In on All-Domain training

Members of the 214th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron launch recovery element, from Tucson, Ariz., push an MQ-9 Reaper into a hangar at the Alpena CRTC during Northern Strike.

Story by Bruce J. Huffman

Michigan National Guard

LANSING, Mich.– The Michigan National Guard unveiled the National All-Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC) at Camp Grayling in July and the Kelly Johnson Joint All-Domain Innovation Center (KJJADIC) at Selfridge Air National Guard Base (SANGB) in Sept., signaling a major shift in how it trains – and how it offers training for other entities across the Department of Defense –to prepare for the battlefield of the future. The new focus on All-Domain operations, which includes sea, land, air, space, and cyber, aligns the Michigan National Guard with the DoD’s modernization priorities, making them a key stakeholder in the future of All-Domain Operations.

The Michigan National Guard is increasing its capabilities in these areas for future missions and resources. “Within the National Guard, readiness levels determine the force structure and mission sets assigned to each state,” said Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Rogers, Adjutant General and Director of Michigan’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “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.”

In 2019, there were more than 6,000 participants from 20 states and seven participating NATO countries at Northern Strike, the Michigan National Guard’s annual joint, reserve component readiness exercise held in Northern Michigan. Michigan’s unique geography is shaped by rolling hills, Great Lakes shorelines and large forests. With a climate and geography similar to central Europe, it offers four-season training opportunities that include littoral operations.

A 17,000-square-mile special use airspace, which extends over a portion of Lake Huron, blankets the NADWC, which is supported by three Michigan Air National Guard installations: the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, and SANGB, where the new KJADIC is located. These air bases provide air-to-air maneuver capabilities, long range precision fires, premier command and control capabilities, and close air support for ground forces training at Grayling.

The bases have strong capabilities across multiple-domains supporting KC-135, A-10, MQ-9 flight missions, cyber, surveillance, intelligence, reconnaissance, and Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) operations. They also have the unique training capability to simulate electronic warfare and replicate a contested environment using joint threat emitters.

Camp Grayling’s 147,000 acres feature a variety of multi-use ranges and maneuver courses able to accommodate air-to-ground live fires, artillery, tanks, mortars, and small arms. The Grayling Army Airfield features two 5,000’ runways capable of handling C-130 and C-17 aircraft and has ramp space with tie downs for 70 aircraft. 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.

Michigan National Guard bases are also very accessible for visiting units. Surrounded by the Great Lakes, there are several deep-water shipping ports, (including one in Alpena, less than 100 miles from Grayling) that enable efficient mobilization of cargo via ship. Shipping lanes such as the Saint Lawrence Seaway make it possible to efficiently ship vehicles and equipment to and from Northern Michigan from countries in Eastern Europe in less time than other major U.S. ports.

Camp Grayling also features a railhead that can accommodate the loading and unloading of 50 railcars and allows units to efficiently move vehicles and equipment to and from the training area. An adjacent 147,500 square-foot Maneuver and Training Equipment Site has 125 maintenance and storage bays for support.

Michigan has long been an engine for innovation within the Department of Defense. Michigan’s close ties to the defense industry date back to World War II and the “Arsenal of Democracy.” The strong industrial base in the Detroit area makes Michigan an ideal proving ground for new and innovative technologies. The Michigan National Guard works closely with other government agencies, industry, and academia to test systems such as autonomous vehicles, high-tech guidance systems, and communications equipment at its training facilities.

“At Northern Strike 20, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) tested a new Android Tactical Awareness Kit that used cellular technology instead of Wi-Fi to improve communications, data and video transmissions from above the battlefield,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Patricia Boyer, a Michigan National Guard cyber operations specialist. According to Boyer, they were able to partner with industry to integrate a variety of tactical operations and provide real-time situational awareness to a command level.

“We’re trying to build a mobile innovative capability to solve problems in real time.” said Brig. Gen. Bryan Teff, Assistant Adjutant General – Air and commander of the Michigan Air National Guard. “Our aim is to demonstrate this during Northern Strike 21 and other future iterations of the exercise.”

Integrating multi-faceted cyber and space scenarios into predominately kinetic operations is no easy task. Michigan’s efforts toward rapid modernization go way beyond maintenance and physical security improvements at their facilities. The tactics and countermeasures for All-Domain warfare span a wide range: from employing dismounted troops and weapons systems to leveraging functionality between space systems of systems, 5th generation aircraft, offensive and defensive cyber operations, electronic warfare operations, artificial intelligence, hypersonic technologies, and unmanned joint platforms, which are capabilities that already exist within the state of Michigan.

Among these assets key to coordinating air and ground activities at the NADWC is the 217th Air Operations Group at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, which successfully integrated a Cyber Protection Team and an Army Division Battlefield Coordination Detachment (BCD) on the Air Operations Center (AOC) weapon system during Northern Strike 20; a global first for the Air Reserve Component, decreasing time to de-conflict joint fires by 95% and enhancing the joint network cybersecurity posture.

Leveraging a decade-plus alignment with USAFE-AFAFRICA through a Joint All Domain Command & Control (JADC2) focus, the 217 AOG at Battle Creek informs the development of the NADWC with combatant commander priorities to ensure training and innovation relevancy. One deliberate focus area is developing talent in unique air force specialty codes (AFSCs) relevant to the future operating environment, including Information Operations officers (14F), Foreign Area officers (16F) and Multi-Domain Warfare officers (13O). As the Air Force’s newest AFSC, 13O officers are recognized as theater-level operational warfare planners and leaders who are adept at optimizing situational awareness and improving the quality and speed of decision making required for near/peer future operating environment success.

Battle Creek’s robust base technology infrastructure also provides support to the NADWC with its Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and Cyber Protection Team (CPT) missions.

“This year was the first year we integrated cyber into Northern Strike, and we are already making great headway in integrating both Army and Air cyber elements into the exercise for 2021,” said Air Force Lt. Col. John Brady, commander of the 272d Cyber Operations Squadron, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base. “We want to meet training objectives for all participants at tactical and operational levels, and create stronger ties between the domains.” According to Brady, the goal is to create realistic contested environments and have cyber operators protect Air, Land and Space domains from near peer adversaries.

The warfighter of the future must be able to process and exchange a barrage of information from multiple sources, then execute a joint response across different systems and platforms at a moment’s notice. Eager to build on its successes and expand its capabilities, the Michigan National Guard is forging ahead into the All-Domain battlespace. It is continually improving its Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) and modernizing its network and training areas to replicate the Future Operating Environment (FOE) which will include all-domain operations.

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