UNDISCLOSED LOCATION – The 130th Field Artillery Brigade, deployed to the Central Command (CENTCOM) region, has improved commanders' ability to detect enemy air activity over the past several months.
A commander at any level needs timely, accurate information about enemy activity to make effective decisions on the battlefield. Decreasing any delays or errors in this process is worth every effort.
The 130th Field Artillery Brigade, Air Defense and Airspace Management (ADAM) Cell, put in that effort to achieve valuable results. Several organizations in the CENTCOM region assisted them, including Task Force Spartan and the Combined Air Operations Center. Their work has led to radar and defense systems that were never thought to be compatible. The result is better threat assessments, enabling commanders' operability.
The work includes an improved vision of the growing threat of Unmanned Ariel Systems (UAS). The brigade ADAM Cell's current air picture is now shared theater-wide, providing an up-to-date, near real-time air picture for commanders.
Capt. David Sanders, ADAM Cell officer in charge, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Anthony Calanni, Command Node System integrator, led this effort. Calanni holds a rare military occupational specialty, 140 alpha, and came to the 130th from the Army Reserve. He is referred to as a Link 16 expert, specializing in how all U.S. military branches, including international partners and allies, speak to each other across data networks.
"This radar right here," Calanni said, pointing to a radar from a neighboring unit. "I have no idea what it is. But if you give me a couple hours with it, I could find a way to make it talk to one of my computer systems and give you some kind of information."
Sanders has deployed in an air defense or counter UAS capacity three times to the Middle East in the past couple of years and works full-time in Florida for the Joint Staff J6 section.
The success of the ADAM Cell didn't come without hurdles and complications.
The Q-53 radar, employed by the 130th, does not inherently communicate with other air defense systems such as the Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control (FAAD C2) system. These systems are both used to detect enemy activity and display radar sectors and acquisitions. But they were not designed to work in tandem.
The 130th ADAM Cell recognized this opportunity and got to work. They dug into the regulations, manuals and technical specifications for every system and piece of equipment related to what they were trying to achieve – an integrated and enhanced sight picture of low-level air space threats.
"It's constantly getting your nose in the books and FMs and knowing how to appropriately articulate that," Sanders said.
The manuals and policies alone would never have provided the breakthrough they were seeking. The solutions came as they coupled their newfound book smarts with the wisdom of other experts in the field. That's when the creativity kicked in.
"My fellow Soldiers really have been my biggest assets," Calanni said. "I really got stumped a lot, and I was able to look over my shoulder and call any 140 alpha or 14 series … retired, active duty, Reserve, National Guard … and that helped me get to my next step. It definitely wasn't one person's knowledge; it was reaching out and getting knowledge from everybody else, and getting those different bits and pieces to find the right parts of the puzzle."
Sanders said he relied on his ADAM Cell team.
"It's been a combined team effort, and it wouldn't have been possible without those guys," he said.
"We continue to make it a better foundation," said Staff Sgt. Johnathan Bustamante, the protection and ADAM Cell noncommissioned officer in charge. "We refined the process so future field artillery headquarters ADAM Cells are set for success."
The systems have been integrated and now provide greater confidence in detecting low-level air tracks and UAS. The battlespace continues to be contested on many levels as enemies repeatedly probe for reconnaissance or attacks against U.S. or coalition forces.
"The big so what to those senior leaders is to maximize search capability," says Sanders. "We have to be able to see something before we can engage it.
"At the end of the day, if what we're doing saves a life on the ground, that's what it means to me personally," Sanders said. "The best thing we can do is stay focused on the guy that's on the ground. If we save a life, and we may not know about it, but if that's what we're able to do, then it's been worth all the heartburn, heartache and headache that it took to go through it. We've done everything we possibly can. I can sleep good at night."
Hopefully, U.S. and coalition commanders in the region can enjoy some rest as well, knowing they have enhanced protection capabilities.