26 May 22. Sweden to Host Upcoming BALTOPS 22 NATO Exercise. Early next month, NATO kicks off the 51st iteration of its annual Baltic Operations exercise, which this year runs June 5-17 in the Baltic Sea, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.
” provides a unique training opportunity that strengthens combined response capability and is critical to preserving the freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea region,” Kirby said during a briefing today. “Participating nations will exercise a myriad of capabilities that demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces, including amphibious operations, gunnery, anti-submarine, air defense exercises, as well as mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal and diving and salvage operations.”
A total of 14 NATO nations, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States will participate, Kirby said. Additionally, NATO partner nations Finland and Sweden will also participate this year — both nations have recently applied to join NATO.
In total, Kirby said, about 45 maritime units, 75 aircraft and around 7,000 military personnel will participate in the exercise.
At the same time Sweden hosts this year’s BALTOPS 22 exercise, Kirby said, it also recognizes the 500th anniversary of its own navy.
“We’re grateful for their ability to lead and to host this year,” Kirby said. “It’s a big exercise, lots to get done, and I know they’re looking forward to it.”
As in previous iterations of BALTOPS, maritime and air forces will work together to exercise medical evacuation, joint personnel recovery, air defense, maritime interdiction operations, anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures and amphibious operations, to strengthen the cohesion and capabilities of NATO allies and partners. This year’s BALTOPS exercise is led by U.S. Sixth Fleet and will be executed by Striking Forces NATO. (Source: US DoD)
24 May 22. AFSOC adds defensive cyberspace operations in Emerald Warrior exercise. The training ensured MDTs, maintainers and operators remain ready for cyberattacks. The US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) incorporated defensive cyberspace operations into the training objectives of the Emerald Warrior 22.1 exercise.
The exercise involved testing the effectiveness of a real-time cyber intrusion detection system on an aircraft.
The training was conducted by AFSOC staff in collaboration with two mission defence teams (MDTs) and a commercial cyber security company, Shift5.
As part of the exercise, two MDTs were employed with the cyber defence correlation cell to assess the viability of deploying such teams to protect the weapon systems from cyberattacks.
The exercise also included testing a cyber-incident response software tool within the Cyberspace Vulnerability Assessment/Hunter to help MDTs conduct cyberspace defence operations.
The two MDTs leveraged Shift5’s technology to test their training and raise awareness about cyber threats.
For the exercise, the AFSOC developed a realistic scenario that involved a flying aircraft experiencing events of unknown origin leading to the discovery of a cyber threat.
The mission computer failures were then reported by a sortie, which took steps to enable the aircraft to ‘limp home.’
After the aircraft landed, the maintainers and 901st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron conducted a cybersecurity check, and the MDTs started the work.
The work performed by MDTs allowed the maintainers to avoid replacing mission computers, which cost around $750,000 each.
The realistic environment evaluated and honed the mission-planning, analysis and technical skills of participating MDTs.
Furthermore, the scenario allowed the intelligence and battle-staff members, cyberspace users, aircraft operators and maintainers to see the first-hand impacts of cyber threats on the weapon systems and the aircraft’s avionics. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
23 May 22. Australians bring Wedgetail to Black Flag test as US preps for AWACS replacement. The U.S. Air Force conducted its first testing exercise with an E-7 Wedgetail, the Boeing Co. aircraft now used by Australia’s military that will begin to replace retiring E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System planes this decade.
The Wedgetail’s participation in the Black Flag exercise, held at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada from May 9th to 13th, could help the the service devise new tactics and capabilities for using it once it joins the service’s fleet.
Black Flag is a combined series of large-scale test events conducted by the 53rd Wing at Nellis that focuses on operational test and tactics development. Tests conducted there help the Air Force find new capabilities and ways for fighters, bombers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and other programs to work together. This is done by realistically simulating combat with massed forces in a high-threat environment.
The Air Force said in a May 20 release that the Black Flag event is necessary to ensure all U.S. military services and allied partners would be ready to work together immediately if a conflict were to erupt.
“This integration is more than just [a] test,” Black Flag director Maj. Theodore Ellis said in a May 20 statement. “We are developing the backbone that will drive our tactics and communication capabilities in a wartime scenario. So if we get to night one [of a battle], we don’t have to educate everyone, the knowledge will already be out there and we can focus on the fight.”
The Wedgetail, now flown by the Royal Australian Air Force and other nations, provides command and control and ISR capabilities to help manage battlefields.
The RAAF owned and flew the Wedgetail that took part in Black Flag, the Air Force said. After that event, the RAAF then flew its E-7 to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida to participate in the 53rd Wing’s Weapons System Evaluation Program-East, a joint event to evaluate how well a squadron can conduct air-to-air live fire missions.
The Air Force last month announced it had decided to replace part of its aging AWACS fleet with Wedgetails, ending a long period of speculation that the service would adopt the Boeing aircraft now flown by Australia and other nations. The first rapid prototype E-7 is expected to be delivered in fiscal 2027.
And the Air Force is working with its Australian counterparts in several areas to ease the transition period for adopting the Wedgetail. For example, Australia has volunteered to train American airmen on the E-7 early so they can start flying it as soon as possible upon delivery. Lt. Gen. David Nahom, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, told lawmakers last week.
The Black Flag test event largely focused on making sure the technologies used for automated, long-range kill chains are working properly, the Air Force said.
It tested out two new data translation and routing tools, one dubbed Watchbox and the other TRAX, for Tactical Radio Application Extension, that sought to pass targeting data from the sensors to the airmen firing the weapon far more quickly than older systems by using automation.
“A single intelligence hit in a database during our weapons school integration phase normally could take 25 to 30 minutes before it is passed to a shooter on Link 16,” Maj. Ridge Flick, an Air University fellow assigned to the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, said. “Now we’ve shortened the timeline through automated means to anywhere from 40 seconds to four minutes, and removed the errors associated with humans transposing information from one system to another.”
Flick and his team tested automated intelligence reporting with Watchbox, and then automatically passed the information on to six ground nodes and two Link 16 networks using TRAX, the Air Force said, proving these systems could significantly shorten the kill chains.
The Air Force said Black Flag successfully tested out a new concept for a mobile command and control, or C2, system that loaded off-the-shelf technology, such as an antenna, various radios, ruggedized computers and servers, into a sport utility vehicle.
This would be an advantage over the usual tactical C2 capabilities, which are made up of bulky and heavy pieces of older technology that are difficult to easily move, it said
“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,” Maj. Paden Allen, commander of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron’s C2 division, which came up with the C2-in-an-SUV concept. “Through this innovative capability, we proved that we can set up shop anywhere with no setup time.”
The team carried out two missions using this tactical C2 concept to show it could be flexible and move quickly. At one point, an SUV was airlifted in a Marine Corps KC-130 to a dry lake bed in the Nevada Test and Training Range, to show how it could be deployed and extracted from an austere environment.
The Air Force said the tests showed the concept could be adapted to several other types of vehicles, to transmit higher classifications of data, and fold in emerging technologies, all of which would allow it to better integrate the concept with other forces.
Other aircraft taking part in Black Flag included RAAF F-35A Lightning IIs, U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets, and Air Force A-10 Warthogs, F-16 Fighting Falcons, and F-22 Raptors. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
23 May 22. Massive Drone Swarm Over Strait Decisive In Taiwan Conflict Wargames. Wargames that the U.S. Air Force has conducted itself and in conjunction with independent organizations continue to show the immense value offered by swarms of relatively low-cost networked drones with high degrees of autonomy. In particular, simulations have shown them to be decisive factors in the scenarios regarding the defense of the island of Taiwan against a Chinese invasion.
Last week, David Ochmanek, a senior international affairs and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development during President Barack Obama’s administration, discussed the importance of unmanned platforms in Taiwan Strait crisis-related wargaming that the think tank has done in recent years. Ochmanek offered his insight during an online chat, which you can watch in full below, hosted by the Air & Space Forces Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
At least some of RAND’s work in this regard has been done in cooperation with the Air Force’s Warfighting Integration Capability office, or AFWIC. Last year, the service disclosed details about a Taiwan-related wargame that AFWIC had run in 2020, which included the employment of a notional swarm of small drones, along with other unmanned platforms.
“I’m sure most everybody on this line has thought extensively about what conflict with China might look like. We think that, as force planners, we think that an invasion of Taiwan is the most appropriate scenario to use because of China’s repeatedly expressed desire to forcibly reincorporate Taiwan into the mainland if necessary and because of the severe time crunch that would be associated with defeating an invasion of Taiwan,” Ochmanek offered as an introduction to RAND’s modeling. “U.S. and allied forces may have as few as a week to 10 days to either defeat this invasion or accept the fait accompli. And the Chinese understand that if they’re to succeed in this, they either have to deter the United States from intervening or radically suppress our combat operations in the theater.”
Ochmanek explained that the Chinese military has amassed a wide array of capable anti-access and area denial capabilities in the past two decades or so that would be brought to bear either to deter or engage any American forces, and their allies and partners, that might seek to respond to an invasion of Taiwan. This includes a diverse arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles that could be used to neutralize U.S. bases across the Pacific region, anti-satellite weapons to destroy or degrade various American space-based assets, and dense integrated air defense networks bolstered by capable combat aircraft, among other things.
“With all of this, our forces are going to be confronted with the need to not just gain air superiority, which is always a priority for the commander, but to actually reach into this contested battlespace, …and find the enemy and engage the enemy’s operational center of gravity – those hundreds of ships carrying the amphibious forces across Strait, the airborne air assault aircraft carrying light infantry across the Strait,” he continued. There will be a need to “do that even in the absence of air superiority, which is a very different concept of operations from what our forces have operated with in the post-Cold War era.”
Those operational realities present immense challenges for the U.S. military in responding to a potential future Chinese invasion of Taiwan. U.S. military wargames exploring potential cross-strait crisis scenarios in recent years has more often than not, to put mildly, produced less than encouraging results when it comes to the performance of the American side.
Ochmanek says that modeling that RAND has done, including simulations conducted in cooperation with the Air Force, shows that large numbers of unmanned aircraft, especially relatively small and inexpensive designs capable of operating as fully-autonomous swarms using a distributed “mesh” data-sharing network, have shown themselves to be absolutely essential for coming out on top in these wargames.
The former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense outlined one broad, but still detailed scenario for how such a swarm of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) would be employed in the defense of Taiwan:
What Ochmanek laid out are exactly the kinds of significant advantages an autonomous drone swarm has the potential to offer in terms of operational flexibility, as well as cost, over manned aircraft, something that The War Zone regularly highlights. Since the individual drones in an autonomous swarm are designed to collaborate with each other, this means that each individual platform does not automatically have to be configured to perform all of the desired missions that the group is collectively expected to carry out.
If a single unmanned aircraft only has to act as a sensor node, weapons truck, jammer, or datalink relay, among other things, it then also opens up the option to make that platform smaller and cheaper than it would be if it had to be a more exquisite multi-role platform. Of course, as Ochmanek himself points out, a swarm offers important additional benefits in a scenario in which it is teamed directly with manned platforms.
“For many, many years this country’s been on a vector of increasingly sophisticated, expensive platforms in ever-smaller numbers, and we’ve seen the inventory of combat aircraft in the Air Force decrease because of this ineluctable trend of increasing cost per platform. That had a strong rationale when we had technical and operational superiority over our adversaries and when in fact we were very concerned about attrition,” Ochmanek said. “The advent of autonomy means that we have the opportunity now to flood the battlespace essentially with inexpensive platforms that can do the jobs that human beings have in the past done and done them actually more robustly than manned concepts.”
Ochmanek highlighted how advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), and separate networked weapon concepts that the Air Force, among others, is working on now, will only add to a future autonomous swarm’s capabilities in any context. He indicated that this had been an additional factor in the game-changing employment of swarms in Taiwan Strait conflict simulations.
“The image we have is you send these things out to the battlespace and they are talking so to speak among themselves. When someone ‘sees’ something of interest – oh that looks like a Renhai [People’s Liberation Army Type 055 destroyer] – they’ll gang up on it, and you’ll get multiple looks … from multiple angles,” he explained. “They’ll share data. The automatic target recognition function will turn those data into a nominated target. And as weapons come in, the mesh itself will grab that weapon and say ‘your primary target is this. I’m not only going to assign you to that target, I’m going to help you hit 47 feet aft of the bow so you maximize your probability of kill against that particular platform.’” (Source: UAS VISION/The Drive)
23 May 22. New Zealand to train Ukrainian forces in the UK. A training team of 30 personnel will head to the UK, training Ukrainian forces on using artillery equipment until the end of July. New Zealand’s military is set to train Ukrainian forces in the UK, the country’s prime minister has announced.
Jacinda Ardern said “a New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) artillery training team of up to 30 personnel” will head to the UK to train Ukrainian personnel “in operating L119 105mm light field guns”.
“We have been clear throughout Russia’s assault on Ukraine that such a blatant attack on innocent lives and the sovereignty of another country is wrong, and our response has not only included the condemnation of Russia, but practical support for Ukraine,” Ms Arden said.
New Zealand’s prime minister also said the training team will work with Ukraine’s armed forces until the end of July.
The country had previously deployed a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130H Hercules aircraft and NZDF personnel to the UK and Europe to help support Ukraine’s self-defence.
New Zealand Defence Minister Peeni Henare said he was pleased New Zealand could help Ukraine’s armed forces, but made it clear they would not enter the country.
“The Government is acting on a call for help with training, which will enable members of the Ukrainian armed forces to operate L119 light field guns as they continue to defend their country against attacks by Russian forces,” he said.
“We are also providing approximately 40 gun sights to Ukraine, along with a small quantity of ammunition for training purposes.
“An advance party will deploy this week with the remainder of the artillery training team deploying as soon as practicable,” he added.
New Zealand has donated approximately $15.7m to purchase military equipment for Ukraine and commercial satellite access for Ukrainian Defence Intelligence. The country has also rolled out sanctions targeting those associated with Russia’s invasion. (Source: forces.net)
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