Guard, Reserve warfighters chart tactics course

TUCSON, Ariz. (AFNS) — Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve officials prepared the roadmap for weapons and tactics needs for their near- and long-term during a conference Oct. 20 through 24 in Tucson.

The annual Weapons and Tactic Conference began at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., with opening remarks by Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

More than 1,000 weapons system specialists formed working groups at the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center and Davis-Monthan AFB to discuss and prioritize their requirements for funding, equipment, and tactics.

“This is the premier opportunity for warfighters at the tactical level, who have been there and done that, to get together and chart a future course,” said Col. Dan Bader, commander of the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center.

During the conference, an unmanned aircraft systems working group reviewed last year’s agenda as well as UAS operational and developmental testing. Then their planning focused on current operations and the lessons learned in them.

“I want everyone to understand what our problems are, what our limitations are, what our manpower limitations are,” said Maj. David Ward, an MQ-1 Predator weapons officer at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., who chaired the UAS working group. “This is what we take out of it, and I bring that over to the weapons system council to press at the O-6 level on up.”

The Reserve components now have several Predator squadrons operating full-time combat air patrols overseas and are expanding to operate additional Predators as well as MQ-9 Reapers.

“We had seven (people) here the first year, 13 last year, and this year we had 101,” Major Ward said. “We’ll need a bigger room next year.”

The Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center is a small, total Air Force team at the Arizona Air National Guard base in Tucson with a mission to increase the capability and survivability of Guard and Reserve warfighters and the lethality of air power. The center is manned by Guard, Reserve and active Air Force and civilians. Additionally, nearly 50 percent of their team is civilian support contractors. Nearly all Airmen are combat experienced officers and weapons school or test pilot school graduates.

The team has reviewed, loaded and test-flown recent advances in radar warning receiver software and the Sniper and Lighting targeting pods for the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II.

More recently, when Guard A-10 pilots in Afghanistan learned their line-of-sight radios were ineffective in mountainous terrain, the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center staff took action to find a solution.

Within a year, a team of military and industry specialists here quickly formed to design and integrate an existing Rockwell Collins ARC-210 radio for the aircraft.

The fix provided pilots, ground forces and combatant commanders clearer communications through the aircraft’s line-of-sight communications as well as added a beyond line-of-sight satellite radio antenna.

“It greatly enhanced our capability, in this case, of the A-10 to communicate and do the mission,” Colonel Bader said. The system was integrated into some F-16s by retrofitting a satellite antenna to fit the fighter aircraft’s limited interior space.

The weapons systems’ add-ons soon became a program for all the Air Force A-10s and block-30 -40 F-16s, thus, strengthening the warfighter’s value in pushing weapon system improvements, Colonel Bader said.

For their efforts, the Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center staff was awarded the Howard W. Leaf award by the Air Force Association this September as the Air Force’s top test and evaluation team for 2008.

“Nobody knows better what warfighters need than the people out there doing the job,” said Capt. Dave Stilli, an operations officer for the Georgia Air Guard’s 165th Air Support Operations Squadron.

Captain Stilli chaired the meetings of at least 30 officer and enlisted tactical air controllers and special operations Airmen — including combat veteran — from across the Reserve components. He guided the group toward their final briefing to the Guard and Reserve’s general officers Oct. 24.

Equipment needs, as well as tactics, learned from hands-on experience in Iraq and Afghanistan were the main points of their discussion.

“For instance, if we find a tactic that’s better, then we use this venue to discuss that and present it to the leadership,” Captain Stilli said.

The fact that lower-ranking Airmen were also here among field grade weapons system officers, intelligence officers and pilots to guide their future funding, equipment and tactics were because of the respect senior leaders have for experienced combat Airmen, Colonel Bader said.

“The senior leadership advocates it and takes it back to their forums,” he said. “This is a very warfighter centric conference, and they are all here. The relationships built here serve folks throughout their careers.”

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