Arizona Guard element, AATC lead assessment to provide military support to civil authorities

  • Published
  • By Maj. Angela Walz
  • 162nd Wing

The 214th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) and the Air National Guard/Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) teamed up with multiple military and civilian agencies to conduct a three-week-long emergency response communications operational assessment for a communications pod on the MQ-9 Reaper that allows first responders the ability to communicate with each other in austere locations, brings 911 service to civilians that are isolated, bridges UHF, VHF, MPU5, and P25 radios for rescuers that otherwise would have to carry multiple radios, and allows long-distance bridging between rescuers and those in need of rescue. The assessment wraps up this week. 

The communications system under test is the Rosetta Echo Advanced Payload (REAP) 2.0, and it has both domestic and military applications. The first REAP flight test (known as REAP-1.5), was held in August and analyzed the military application of the pod. It demonstrated a communications relay network providing seamless connectivity between air and ground participants in the demonstration area. Specific waveforms supported by the REAP pod include Link 16, UHF, VHF, MPU5 (mobile ad hoc networks (MANET)), and P25 public safety channel.

REAP-1.5 was hosted by AATC’s detachment at the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, N.Y., but the pod was flown in a different configuration then. The current test is a team effort – the MQ-9 Reaper was provided by the 163rd Attack Wing of the California Air National Guard; the Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) was provided by the 214 AMXS; and the Mission Control Element (MCE) was provided by the 174 ATKW. The team effort is to assess the pod’s domestic-use payloads for the traditional fire response emergency or lost hiker scenario in which Guard units are often tasked to assist.

“There are so many unused applications for the MQ-9, and it’s great to see it substantiated in ways that could especially benefit us here in the Arizona Guard,” said Master Sgt. Sam Roberts, 214 LRE Production Superintendent. “These are real scenarios that literally occur in our own backyard all the time. What better way to utilize our Citizen-Airmen than to provide assistance to our friends, families and neighbors in times of crises?”  

Maj. Ryan Nastase, the AATC’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) Division Chief echoed this sentiment. “The primary use of this application could be expanded to support, for example, California wildfires, especially in rural mountainous areas. It’s also ideal in response to hurricanes, ice storms, or tornados, when the weather has either knocked out cell phone service or makes coordination for first responders difficult or even impossible,” he said.

The REAP 2.0 communication pod is intended to bridge the communication between the different responding organizations on the ground, while also providing 911 coverage and giving cell phone coverage in the emergency response area. The assessment included testing communications with a flight of two A-10s, one flown by Col. Darrell Hubbard, AATC Vice Commander, the other flown by Lt. Col. Luke Haywas, AATC Director of Test.

“This pod was created partly in a response to a wildfire that claimed multiple lives in CA after the cell towers were burnt down and the town could not reach 911 services,” said Maj. Nastase.

Besides the local 214 LRE and Tucson ISR Division of AATC, there is a litany of support personnel and contractors assisting with the test, including the following: AATC A-10 support to help find a simulated lost hiker; California ANG (163 ATKW) – Providing one Block 5 MQ-9 Reaper; Arizona ANG (214 AMXS) – Providing LRE Crews, Block 25 Ground Control Station, and maintenance support; Syracuse AATC Detachment (174 ATKW) – Providing LRE training crews, MCE crews, mission planning and coordination; ULTRA Electronics – Providing REAP 2.0 payload and engineers; General Atomics – Providing engineers and integration; Libby Army Airfield – Providing tower and Fire Department personnel; Directorate of Emergency Services at Ft. Huachuca – Providing a mobile command and control operations center; Avix – Providing frequency/spectrum coordination; AT&T – Providing 4G LTE services and engineering; Persistent Systems – Providing MPU-5 radios and technical support.

Although located at Libby Army Airfield at Fort Huachuca, the 214 LRE is a subset of the 214th Attack Group, which is based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. The 214 ATKG belongs to the 162nd Wing at Morris Air National Guard Base, Arizona, which is adjacent to the Tucson International Airport.

AATC Headquarters is a tenant unit to the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing located at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, but is an entity which reports to both the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. “We’re honored to host AATC at the Morris Air National Guard Base,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Butler, 162nd Wing Commander. “They play a big role in making our United States military a more lethal, innovative force in a non-bureaucratic way.”