JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – Airmen from Pacific Air Forces demonstrated Command, Control, Communications, and Computer (C4) Systems resiliency in a degraded environment alongside Airmen from the 505th Combat Training Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, during BLUE FLAG 23-1 at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii, Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.
BLUE FLAG 23-1 was the second focused iteration of the annual exercise, designed to provide PACAF and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s air component with realistic, multi-domain command and control training environments specifically designed for operational-level warfighters responding to pacing threats.
As strategic competitors seek to gain advantages across multiple domains, BLUE FLAG 23-1 prepared members within the 613th Air Operations Center and the PACAF Battlestaff to deter and fight adversaries in a contested communication and logistical environment.
“We need to be prepared for any conflict in this theater and across the globe,” said Col. James McFarland, commander of the 613th Air Operations Center. “In this exercise, we are simulating the pacing threats' capability to degrade and deny us in cyber and other communications methods.”
As BLUE FLAG 23-1 integrated the joint force warfighters to design, plan, execute, and assess the air component operations, it also ensures the Theater Joint Forces Air Component Commander retains the critical ability to effectively command and control joint air, space and cyberspace capabilities.
Each year, the exercise expands in scope to present more complex challenges and to validate primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency plans (PACE) regardless of the problem set.
Members from the 505th CTS developed complex scenarios that replicated cyber-attacks, emulated system-wide degradation of services, and simulated missile attacks to bases and austere airfields throughout the Indo-Pacific, then trained, observed, and assessed PACAF Airmen as they responded.
Simulated degraded environments require Airmen to execute Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP); an effort within individual agencies to ensure they can continue to perform their mission essential functions during a wide range of emergencies.
“The exercise simulates significant challenges and problems to overcome,” said Col. Jeff Jarry, PACAF deputy chief of staff. "It challenges Airmen to critically think and navigate the complex webs of communications interdependencies and other pathways that we can look at leveraging to ensure we maintain command and control and be able to operate.”
BLUE FLAG 23-1 also enabled Airmen to test new ideas and concepts while preparing them for future competitors by successfully implementing flexible response options against simulated damage from a barrage of cyber-attacks.
“We know that command and control is an evolving threat and I've been impressed by the team taking on challenges, not backing down, and finding innovative ways to do things,” McFarland said. “We've thrown challenges at the team that we expected to drive certain outcomes. For example, if there was a problem that was category A, they found a Category B solution that absolutely gets the mission done.”
Although the challenges were complex and ever-changing throughout the exercise, the Airmen and joint team found new solutions, oftentimes solutions not accounted for in the scenario development, not only advancing tactics and procedures but informing the 505th CTS for future iterations of BLUE FLAG.
“If you go back to the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. CQ Brown Jr.’s discussion of accelerate change or lose, a big part of that is thinking about the problem in a different way to break those biases and mental models that we've had, and that's exactly what our Airmen are doing,” said McFarland.
BLUE FLAG 23-1 provided Airmen a detailed understanding of threats they face in a contested communication and logistical environment. They practiced working alongside joint force and coalition partners to employ a contingent of strategies to secure senior leaders’ objectives within the Indo-Pacific.
“From the core, we’re integrating with our Allies and partners,” McFarland said. “We're absolutely doing this together, and we continue to plan both real-world and exercise operations as a joint and coalition team while this exercise is going on.”
For the BLUE FLAG 23-1 team, while there is always constant learning and growth, they continue to provide innovative solutions to complex challenges and consistently demonstrate resilient C4, all while executing real-world air and space missions throughout the Indo-Pacific.