Northern Strike 20 sets standard, tone for future innovation

Multicomponent Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC’s) Joint Fires Observers (JFOs), and Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) members conduct training at Camp Grayling, part of the National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Northern Michigan during Northern Strike 20, July 23, 2020. Northern Strike is designed to challenge the training audience with multiple forms of convergence that advance interoperability across multicomponent, multinational, and interagency partners. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. David Kujawa)

Story by Senior Airman Tristan D. Viglianco

Michigan National Guard

LANSING, Mich. — Since 2012, Northern Strike has expanded the boundaries of joint and multinational training operations. It has also served as a proving ground for new, innovative technology for the Michigan National Guard and the rest of the Department of Defense. This function continued at the newly rebranded National All-Domain Warfighting Center during Northern Strike 20.

For this years’ innovation effort, Northern Strike personnel collaborated with a company that specializes in networks and integrated systems known as Fenix Group.

“During Northern Strike [Fenix Group], provided Android Tactical Awareness Kit relay to Joint Terminal Attack Controllers on the ground,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Patricia Boyer, cyber operations specialist. “Using cellular systems, instead of wifi, we were able to relay the images to the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center.”

According to Boyer, the ATAK technology is widely used in the JTAC community to track forces, communicate effectively, and view video feeds from aircraft above the battlefield. The equipment provided by the Fenix Group, known as BANSHEE, allowed for a much larger transmission of the data, which enabled a central command to be set up in Alpena to monitor the action.

“Northern Strike was an introduction of the capability to see how it would work in Michigan,” said Boyer. “In short, we were able to partner with industry to integrate tactical operations and provide real-time situational awareness to a command level.”

The multinational, joint nature of Northern Strike means the international and interagency partners benefitted from the technology as well.

“In our Joint Operations Cell we were able to see Latvian JTACs move on the ground,” said Boyer. “We were able to communicate with them in real time and see video from an Air Force MQ-9 Reaper overhead all within one system.”

Recently, the DoD and the Michigan National Guard have made it a priority to partner with industry to overcome challenges faced by warfighters. These partnerships help develop new technology, which makes our nation’s troops more efficient and effective on the battlefield.

“We can innovate fast in industry,” said Dave Peterson, Fenix Group CEO. “We are always excited to work with someone who is in the DoD, research houses, and line units who are willing to move the needle and try out something new.”

The large maneuver space and extensive air complex available at the NADWC in northern Michigan means Northern Strike has the ability to push the envelope on innovation far beyond what most training environments provide.

“One of our nation’s critical ventures is trying to practice command and control in a joint environment,” said Air Force Col. Chris McDonald, Michigan director of innovations. “The exercise gave us an opportunity to demonstrate technologies that bridge the joint all-domain realm.”

Northern Strike 20 foreshadows the upcoming unveiling of the Kelly Johnson Joint All-Domain Innovation Center, which takes place Sept. 11, 2020. This new asset, located at Selfridge Research Park, Macomb County, Mich., placed extra emphasis on the innovation effort.

“We are trying to generate excitement for our innovation center,” said Brig. Gen. Bryan Teff, Assistant Adjutant General – Air and commander of the Michigan Air National Guard. “We have a lot of good ideas and with the ribbon cutting coming up we wanted to build momentum going into that, so we can solve other problems as we collaborate with industry, academia, and the military.”

Northern Strike has become a pinnacle of innovation for the National Guard Bureau and with the opening of the new innovation center, its influence is sure to grow.

“In future Northern Strike iterations, one of the ideas behind our innovation center is to come up with technology to overcome challenges,” said Teff. “This will allow us to make rapid improvements and provide a realistic training scenario during the exercise.”

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