Valiant Shield 16: U.S. Marines Prepare for High-End Combat With Low-End Technology

Valiant Shield 16: U.S. Marines Prepare for High-End Combat With Low-End Technology

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl Hunter Buley, Tropospheric Scatter Microwave Radio Terminal operator with Marine Wing Communications Squadron 18 adjusts the radio terminal's trajectory allowing it to receive and transmit data during Valiant Shield 16 at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Sept. 18, 2016. The radio terminal provided uninterruptable communications between Guam and Tinian. VS16 is a biennial, U.S.-only, field training exercise that focuses on joint training with U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force to increase interoperability and working relationships. Photo by Lance Cpl Makenzie Fallon.

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (September 22, 2016) – U.S. Marines from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing are practicing on how to function without the aid of advanced technological command and control systems during operations at Exercise Valiant Shield 16 on Guam and around the Mariana Islands Range Complex.

The training involves maintaining communications between a Marine Air-Ground Task Force temporary combat operations center at Andersen Air Force Base located on Guam, and an expeditionary tactical air operations center on Tinian.

The challenge lies in keeping situational awareness between the two locations while providing control of real-world sorties that span from the entire inventory of joint players. Some participating aircraft include F/A-18 Hornets, B-1 Lancers, F-15 Eagles, C-12 Hurons, P-8 Poseidons and KC-130J Super Hercules', all bringing various elements and challenges to those channeling flight information.

"We transmit the status of the aircraft so we know if we need to launch somebody on a mission, take care of maintenance issues, unscheduled events and tanker plans," said Cpl Brian Borgman, air defense controller with Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 18. "Essentially we give information from the COC to the TAOC . . . and as a controller . . . at this unit, I am monitoring and making sure the Marines have what they need in terms of the aircraft via any source of voice communications, group chat, computers, different share drives and networking device." 

The training is realistic due to the limited commercial communication infrastructure that makes even voice cell phone calls challenging between the two islands. 

Additionally, units originate from various locations to include Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan and Marine Corps Base Hawaii and do not have the ability to train face to face outside of exercises due to the distributed nature of III Marine Expeditionary Forces across U.S. Pacific Command's area.

"We have some traditional, single-channeled radios that include satellite communications and high frequency bands," said Marine Corps Capt Bryant Kruse, a communications officer for 1stMAW. "We have devices that establish wide area networks and those devices include a SATCOMM system called a VSAT or ‘Very Small Aperture Terminal,' which is operated on two different bands and provides two forms of redundancy. We also have a Secure, Mobile, Anti-Jam, Reliable, Tactical-Terminal system that operates in the extremely high frequency band, which is very difficult to jam in the event that someone is trying to knockout your communications." 

High frequency radio transmissions, standard operating procedures, and established training methods have been filling the void of satellite communications during periods of blackout. 

Communication via e-mail, sharepoint access and video conference enabled by satellite receivers are inaccessible during periods of blackouts as well.

"If we were to lose our communications wide area network in a degraded environment, meaning you wouldn't have any telephones or computers, then everything you're trying to communicate would have to happen through single-channeled radio within the high frequency or very high frequency bands," said Kruse. "Then all of that information would have to be repackaged into a format that could be easily communicated between a single-channeled radios." 

Specifically, SMART-Ts are the Marine Corps' go to network devices utilized for these types of instances. They operate on the extremely high frequency band within the electromagnetic spectrum and requires technology that currently does not exist to block out the signal, thus keeping operations safeguarded and continuous. 

VSATs and other satellite reliant devices also assist the two command centers in exchanging data between each other, ships at sea, and pilots in the air regularly.

"They have the communication with other folks and the redundancies are the best portions," said Marine Corps Col. Daniel Shipley, Marine Air Ground Task Force commander and commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12. "What I've learned here is the redundancies they have set up for communications if they're jammed are great . . . and they go around that using different frequencies or systems to keep fighting the fight."

Maintaining communications not only keeps operations continuous and safe, but it allows commanders the ability to make credible decisions based on the timely information they're provided, which impacts the entirety of missions.

"The oversight is huge," said Shipley. "It's the ability to provide expeditionary support to our Marines on the ground. If we are unable to communicate then we are not able to provide the support they need to move forward."

As approximately 18,000 service members partake in what is considered the largest, U.S.-only, joint exercise in the Pacific, in-depth networking during operations is observably a key component for the success of Valiant Shield objectives.

The Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) is provided as a public service operated by Third Army/U.S. Army Central (ARCENT) on behalf of the Department of the Army in support of all branches of the U.S. military (Navy, Air Force, Marines) and its Coalition partners serving in the U.S. Forces Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.