Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The 673rd Communications Squadron (CS) Agile Combat Employment (ACE) Expeditionary Communications team forward-deployed from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, with the 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron to Łask Air Base, Poland in early August.
The 90th EFS is deployed in the European theater to support NATO's Air Shielding mission, exercise ACE, and enhance interoperability with allies, partners, and joint forces. ACE operations and exercises allow Airmen to train and execute tasks quickly in unpredictable ways and rapidly respond to adversary moves.
"ACE Expeditionary Communications is responsible for supporting forward deployment hub and spoke operations for the 90th EFS throughout the European Theater," Technical Sgt. Matthew Vile, Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge of Cyber Control Operations, explains.
The ACE Expeditionary Communications team is a unique unit embedded within communications squadrons, specially trained to enhance Command and Control in tactical and deployed environments. Members are trained on multiple Air Force Specialty Code, or AFSC, skill sets ranging from computer support and satellite transmissions to support any location. They are also responsible for setting up communications in remote areas within 4 hours.
"Compared to a normal communications squadron, we're more of a tactical unit, similar to a combat communications squadron, however, on a much smaller scale," Vile says. "We are currently set up to support small sites in deployed and remote locations with a mobile team of three."
The 673rd CS specializes in spoke operations, allowing the squadron to test new equipment in the field and forward-deployed environments. Spoke operations support forward deployments from a centralized point, or hub, to disperse assets during a mission.
"673 CS is one of the leading ACE Expeditionary Communication teams within the Pacific Air Forces area of responsibility. We are always testing newer, lighter, and faster technology supporting ACE and our fighter squadrons," Vile says. "For this deployment, we received advanced radios and were able to set up a communications network for ammunition personnel, who were operating further away from existing communication systems. Although this is not something we typically deploy with, it allowed us to test how well it could work for our units in future operations."
In the development of ACE communications at JBER, the ACE team has made strides in enhancing ACE expeditionary communication capabilities. The team was able to acquire standalone Communication Fly Away kits, as well as three different solutions for connectivity.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ethan Koetter, 673rd Communication Squadron Cyber Control operator, left, and Technical Sgt. Matthew Vile, 673rd CS NCOIC of Cyber Control Operations set up a military satellite communications terminal during an Agile Combat Employment training exercise Oct. 29, 2022 at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Capt. Claire Waldo)
“One challenge we often face during deployments is adapting to different systems. Wifi, military satellite and commercial satellite all work differently based on the location you’re operating from,” Lt. Col. Michael Kendall, 90th EFS commander explains. “The command and control component of ACE is a problem JBER has spent years trying to solve. When our unit found out we would be exercising ACE in the European Command, we connected with the 673rd CS to provide ACE communications support.”
The 90th EFS has forward deployed from Poland to three locations, two of which required ACE expeditionary communication support and allowed the 673rd CS to exercise ACE elements with new equipment and enhance the unit's combat capabilities.
"During this deployment, we learned how to use an Airbus, a different type of satellite terminal," Senior Airman Amber Rios, 673rd Communications Squadron Cyber Control operator, says. "It's similar to the military satellite equipment we currently use; however, we hadn't used it before this deployment. It was a great capability that we quickly learned on the go."
The ACE Expeditionary Communications team provided vital communications support to the various ACE training exercises the 90th EFS conducted in Norway and Greece. Norway proved that ACE communications requires theater-agnostic equipment to accomplish the mission.
“We initially faced many connectivity challenges in Norway,” says Kendall. “USAFE A6 Command and Control was able to lend our ACE expeditionary communications team a STARLINK terminal. This equipment allowed us to successfully communicate with both U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. Air Forces Central Air Operations Centers and leadership on unclassified and classified networks the entire time we were operating out of Souda Bay. Without the 673rd CS personnel, we would not have been able to accomplish our mission.”
Although supporting the NATO Air Shielding mission and forward deployments to various locations in Europe provides new challenges, it reinforces the requirements and vigorous training required for the ACE communication team to be successful.
"Problem-solving is something we embrace daily in communications," Vile says. "There are constant learning curves and challenges, but we have a great energetic team. The support from other communication units like the 86th Communications Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany has been phenomenal, especially with a mission like this."
ACE is an ever-evolving concept. Units like the 673rd CS ACE Expeditionary Communication teams are vital to units operating in a modern, contested environment.