Michigan’s not-so-hidden gem in the skies: one of the premier military training airspaces in the world

Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from the Latvian National Armed Forces conduct close air support training with A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft assigned to the 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich., at Grayling Aerial Gunnery Range in Waters, Mich., October 29, 2019. Michigan and Latvia have been linked under the U.S. National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program since 1993. The collaboration between JTACs in the Latvian National Armed Forces and the Michigan Air National Guard has been one of the most productive examples of bilateral defense cooperation in the entire SPP (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Scott Thompson).

Michigan National Guard 

Story by Capt. Andrew Layton

LANSING, Mich. – Many Michigan residents may not realize they are able to observe one of the state’s greatest national assets every time they cast their eyes toward the clouds.

Situated in the skies over Michigan’s northeastern forests and lakeshores is a massive military training airspace considered the largest overland complex of its kind east of the Mississippi River. Michigan’s airspace is one of the major advantages that draw thousands of personnel from across the Department of Defense to train at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Northern Michigan each year.

“When you look at Michigan’s unique geography, airspace and ranges, it makes an ideal environment for all-domain training and operations,” said Brig. Gen. Bryan Teff, Assistant Adjutant General and commander of the Michigan Air National Guard. “Believe it or not, the extensive airspace and ranges our state offers meet 100% of any next generation fighter aircrew readiness requirements.”

Managed and scheduled by the Michigan Air National Guard, the airspace measures an extraordinary 17,000-square-miles, which is comparable to the Air Force’s Nellis Range complex in Nevada. This robust capacity is matched only by the airspace’s capability to provide ideal joint and large-scale training opportunities in a littoral environment.

The National All-Domain Warfighting Center, which includes the nearly 148,000 acres of ground maneuver space at Camp Grayling and airbase infrastructure at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, also features multi-use ranges and maneuver courses able to accommodate air-to-ground live fires, artillery, tanks, mortars and small arms. The ranges also accommodate all-altitude, all-ordnance deliveries that can simulate both moving and fixed targets. With its proximity to Canada, the Michigan airspace complex offers tremendous joint training capabilities with Canadian CF-18s and F-35s as well as international and other service partners as part of Michigan’s Northern Strike exercise.

Aircrew that utilize the airspace during events like Northern Strike – the National Guard Bureau’s premier annual joint fires readiness event, held annually at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center – say it offers some of the finest training opportunities they’ve ever encountered.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Rod Metzler, A-10 flight commander, 163rd Fighter Squadron, 122d Wing, Indiana Air National Guard, came away from his experience at Northern Strike 19 with an appreciation for the one-of-a-kind training Michigan’s airspace provides.

“Utilizing Michigan’s shoreline area made it even better – being based in the Midwest, that’s not something we typically get to do without flying to the U.S.’s east or west coast [which are both more heavily populated],” he said. “Having that opportunity near a large body of water allowed us to use some tactical solutions we could actually feel, and brief to, that we don’t get in a lot of other areas.”

The airspace, which also extends over a portion of Lake Huron, is supported by three Michigan Air National Guard installations: the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, and Selfridge Air National Guard Base, 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 can simulate electronic warfare and replicate a contested environment using joint threat emitters.

In total, Michigan’s airspace provides a massive three-dimensional arena to accomplish Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, Air Interdiction, Close Air Support and Air-to-Air training requirements. The Michigan Air National Guard’s airspace complex is a key asset that puts the state in a unique position to support the National Defense Strategy with unbeatable solutions to training needs of the joint force and partner nations.

“Michigan’s airspace is just one of the unique assets that makes the Michigan National Guard poised to lead the nation in providing a cutting-edge, possessing some of our nation’s finest All-Domain training resources,” said Teff. “With this unrivaled training environment, we are able to prepare for today’s global, joint fight, posture for tomorrow’s missions, and stay one step ahead of our adversaries.”

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