NATO tests

Staff Sgt. M. Davis
Kaiserslautern American editor

NATO’s communications interoperability was put to the test during exercise Operation Healthy Thunder, which validated the organization’s long-haul communications abilities.
The three-day exercise took place Monday through Wednesday and tested the unit’s ability to perform communications tasks from multiple deployed sites.
Healthy Thunder began at the end of 1st Combat Communications Squadron’s month-long Operational Readiness Exercise last week. The squadron provided communications equipment to assist NATO’s Interim Deployable Combined Air Operations Center with transmitting and receiving information from Bitburg, Germany, to several sites.
The exercise ensured two tasks were accomplished: the deployed unit could write an Air Tasking Order and transmit the ATO to Spangdahlem Air Base, and receive information from other communications sites to compile a Recognized Air Picture and display it at the IDCACO facility at Ramstein.
The 1st CBCS deployed detachment at Bitburg provided all the external link structure to receive data from CAOC II in Kalkar, Germany, as well as the 606th U.S. Air Control Squadron at Spangdahlem, Major Dana, NATO Healthy Thunder project officer explained.
The exercise was a great opportunity for the units to work together as a team, the major said. “This is exactly where the United States and NATO are trying to go with interoperability.”
This is the first time NATO used a U.S. unit (1st CBCS) to establish a communications link between NATO and a U.S. base during an exercise, said Gen. Daniel Van Laethem, CAOC II detachment commander.
“What our people did was work with the other unit to make that contact possible with the U.S. unit and come up with a scenario that would be beneficial to both of us,” the general said. “For us, the biggest issue is connectivity with all the players to make our mission successful. We know how to produce the important planning documents and execute them, but if we cannot communicate successfully, our mission will fail. It is important that we obtain the communications expertise to be able to operate in a deployed location.”
The last time an exercise of this caliber took place was in 1996, said Belgian Air Force Commandant Roger Depre, chief of Communication Information Systems, Headquarters, AIRNORTH.
“This exercise tested the satellite communications, while the previous exercise tested telecommunications,” said Commandant Depre, a native of Toregereu, Belgium. “We were tasked with getting many computer systems to interact, configuring everything correctly and sending out the information.”
Also providing his computer expertise during the exercise was Belgian Air Force Adjutant Freddy Vermeir, an AIRNORTH communications and information specialist.
The biggest challenge was “ensuring the Recognized Air Picture worked,” said Adjutant Vermier, who was responsible for building the deployed communications network and maintaining the one here as well.
Recent operations demonstrated the need for light, lean, tailored communications packages to deploy rapidly down range, said Col. Mike Lewis, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Air and Space Communications Group commander.
“The Healthy Thunder exercise tested our ability to deploy to an austere environment and interoperate at multiple locations in support of coalition forces,” Colonel Lewis said.
Col. Robert Kane, 86th Airlift Wing commander, echoed that sentiment.
“The ability to deploy combat ready air forces is just one of many critical skills necessary in today’s expeditionary Air Force,” the commander said. “We must organize, train and equip our forces to interoperate with coalition partners, providing seamless coalition air operations; exercises like the Healthy Thunder enable communications and air operations support units to hone their skills, learn how to support other units and broaden their operational horizons.”
The exercise validated the IDCAOC’s capability, Major Dana said.
“We (the IDCAOC) have always had this on our charter, but this is the first time in the history of NATO CAOCs that we will have gone to a location that did not have existing infrastructure and set up an Air Operations Center,” he said. “It proved NATO’s ability to conduct operations outside of its geographical borders.”