“Austere Challenge” to Test New Tactical Operations Center In Israel

The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral James Winnefeld, met Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Thursday,  “While there, Admiral Winnefeld will participate in a series of discussions on mil-to-mil (military-to-military) cooperation and mutual defense issues impacting both Israel and the United States,” 

Next week, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin, currently the commander of the U.S. Third Air Force, reportedly will visit Israel.

U.S. European Command will participate in the “Austere Challenge 12”, missile defense drill planned for October in Europe and  Israel.

There is a good chance that the exercise will be moved up to late September in coordination with a huge allied naval and air exercise off the coast of Iran.  US forces in Europe have been alerted  for deployment and most of the equipment is already deployed and in a state of readiness in Israel.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said the United States will send fewer people because of other operations scheduled for the same time frame.

This makes no difference to the exercise because Israeli troops have already been trained to take over operation of the Patriot batteries, while the US forces removed from deployment to Israel will be used in the Sunni nations for a similar missile defense drill.

“The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned,” spokesman said. “All deployed systems will be fully operational with their associated operators, including the missile interceptors.”

Soldiers with the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Kaiserslautern have said they will try out a new piece of equipment, a tactical operations center, during the exercise. The tactical operations center deploys with soldiers and allows the unit to quickly provide command and control for missile defense from a remote location.

Ross said the exercise is “the largest ever ballistic missile defense exercise between the U.S. and Israel, and is significantly increased from the last combined exercise, held in 2010.”

Specific numbers of participating service members from both the U.S. and Israel are classified.

Called a tactical operations center, the maze of tents set up on Rhine Ordnance Barracks holds state-of-the-art technology, such as computers that can pull up imagery of any place in the world with clarity and share that data almost instantaneously. The tactical operations center can be set up or torn down in less than a day.

Issued to the 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command this summer, the tactical operations center is the only one of its kind in Europe and only the second one being used by the U.S. Army worldwide, 10th AAMDC officials said this week.

“You can call it the brains of the organization,” said Army Capt. Laron Bybee, a defense of Europe planning officer for the 10th AAMDC. “This is where the command and control of the missile defense fight would be taking place.”

The 10th AAMDC was established less than a year ago to expand the U.S. Army’s ability to execute and coordinate ballistic missile defense from the European theater, making it the Army’s only command-level air and missile defense unit in Europe.

The organization plays a vital role in the U.S. military’s and NATO’s growing ballistic missile defense mission in Europe, part of President Barack Obama’s “phased adaptive approach” to missile defense.

While the tactical operations center is focused on ballistic missile defense, it’s not tied to a particular stage or milestone within the president’s plan, said Army Capt. Michael Bux, chief of passive defense for the 10th AAMDC.

The unit would employ its tactical operations center any time ground-based air or missile defense Army units were deployed within the U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility, Bux said. The area includes 51 countries that extend into the Caucasus and includes Israel, according to EUCOM’s website.

The center, along with the 10th AAMDC commander and soldiers who work in the mobile unit, would be deployed to the same location to provide command and control to those units, officials said.

The center could also be deployed to provide early warning missile detection to other forward-located land-based forces, Bux said. The 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, based at Fort Bliss, Texas, owns the other mobile tactical operations center and conducted that mission during Operation Desert Storm, Bux noted.

The 10th AAMDC will use its new equipment during the upcoming Austere Challenge exercise, Bux said. U.S. government officials have said Austere Challenge 12 would be the biggest and most significant military exercise ever conducted by the U.S. and Israel and would simulate the ballistic missile defense of Israel

The command-and-control mission could be conducted from Ramstein Air Base or Rhine Ordnance Barracks, but “you want to go with your shooters,” Bux said. As a general rule, “you want to locate your command-and-control with the preponderance of forces providing ballistic missile defense.”

The tactical operations center “compiles and shares and distributes information incredibly rapidly,” Bux told members of the Extended Air Defense Task Force, an independent organization comprised of air and missile defense experts from the German and Dutch air forces.

The group toured the center Tuesday.

“I think it’s very impressive. It’s definitely state-of-the-art,” said Col. Gernot Kopf, a member of the German air force and commander of the task force. “It’s highly mobile; you can put it into austere environments. I would love to work together with the U.S. and other NATO partners in such an operations center.”


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