The 53rd Wing of the U.S. Air Force conducted Black Flag 22-1, bringing together four branches of the U.S. military and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in a first coalition test environment to identify enhancements to night-one capabilities, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
As part of the Air Force’s test flag enterprise, Black Flag allows the Air Force to test like it fights, developing force integration techniques and discovering capabilities utilizing existing and emerging material to deliver combat capability to the warfighter.
As one of the participants in Black Flag, the RAAF brought the E-7A Wedgetail allowing the Air Force an opportunity to look at the operational integration capabilities the E-7 has to offer. While this isn't the first time the RAAF has integrated the E-7 with the USAF, it’s their first time taking part in a test exercise. The Air Force’s first E-7 prototype is projected to be delivered to the fleet in FY27.
Following Black Flag, the RAAF’s E-7 flew to Tyndall Air Force Base where it took part in the 53rd Wing’s Weapons System Evaluation Program-East, a premier joint event that evaluates a squadron’s ability to conduct air-to-air live fire missions.
“This integration is more than just test, we are developing the backbone that will drive our tactics and communication capabilities in a wartime scenario,” said Maj. Theodore Ellis, Black Flag director. “So, if we get to night one, we don’t have to educate everyone, the knowledge will already be out there and we can focus on the fight.”
A large objective of this Black Flag iteration was addressing automated long-range kill-chains and how to ensure the technologies that support them are operationally ready and relevant.
In January, at the 2021 Weapons and Tactics Conference, Maj. Ridge Flick and his team presented WATCHBOX and Tactical Radio Application eXtension, or Trax, two powerful data translation and routing tools that significantly speed up the data transfer from sensor to shooter.
Incorporated in Black Flag 22-1, Flick and his team tested automated intelligence reporting using Watchbox and automatically disseminated the reporting to six separate ground nodes and two Link-16 networks using TRAX. The testing proved combining machine-to-machine communication and automated intelligence reporting enables significantly shorter kill-chains.
Building off Secretary Kendall’s seven operational imperatives, the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron Command and Control, or C2, division created and employed a never-before-seen mobile C2 element during Black Flag that aggressively responded to four of those imperatives. Often referred to as “movable not mobile,” tactical C2 capabilities have historically been stationary in nature due to the hours it takes to transport the aging cumbersome technology that has been employed for the past 20 years, according to Maj. Paden Allen, 422nd TES C2 division commander.
In an effort to modernize, Allen and his team equipped an SUV with commercial and government "off-the-shelf" technology to assemble a tactical C2 element that was able to provide command and control functions while on the move. Some examples of their gear include a Kymeta antenna, assorted radios, ruggedized computers with servers, and Move Out/Jump Off, or MOJO, that provided additional tactical data link capability.
"It's inconspicuous and if we needed to abandon the vehicle in a scenario, we could do so in less than 20 minutes with all our gear,” Allen said. “Through this innovative capability, we proved that we can set up shop anywhere with no setup time.”
Allen’s team executed two missions which provided tactical C2 capabilities that demonstrated the flexible and rapid mobility options to and from the Nevada Test and Training Range. This included driving the SUVs more than two hours to demonstrate command over land as well as airlift using a U.S. Marine Corps’ KC-130 Hercules to a dry lakebed on the NTTR to replicate deployment and extraction from austere environments. Through successful testing, the team discovered they could scale this solution to multiple types of vehicles, potentially increase the number of classifications of data they could work between and add additional data links by integrating emerging technology. These solutions would allow more integration among other forces.
The 53rd Wing’s next test flag event will be a first maritime Black Flag. The Air Force will partner with Marine Air Group 11 to focus on long-range takedown of mobile maritime threats. The maritime Black Flag will take place in June 2022.