In a first-ever operation, air defenders from the E-3 Air Defense Battery used the new Terminal High Altitude Defense Remote Launch Capability, or THAAD, to expand their ability to defend the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
For four days, E Battery in cooperation with the Joint Marianas Region, Pacific Air Forces, multiple Air Force wings and squadrons, and signalmen from the Hawaiian 307th Enhanced Expeditionary Signal Battalion all contributed deployment of a THAAD launcher from Guam to Rota, CNMI. THAAD is the Army’s air defense system specialized in the interception of ballistic missiles.
“The elements that all had to come together to make this mission a success illustrate the idea of joint operations,” said Major Kyle Hermanson, officer in charge of Task Force Talon. “Joint Region Marianas, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, Pacific Air Forces, E-3 THAAD, Guam National Guard Security Forces all came together to make this one of the most successful air defense missions in the [area of responsibility]”.
This was the first use of the THAAD Remote Launch capability outside of testing and proved to be an outstanding addition to THAAD’s already combat-proven effectiveness.
“The exercise was to demonstrate a new capability we received in January – the Remote Launch Kit. We worked with Guam and CNMI leaders to find a suitable location on Rota, brought a launcher and wanted to send a message that we can defend the entirety of CNMI,” said 1st Lt. Peter Gonsalves, E3 Executive Officer. “We took the best minds we had here, created a blueprint, and were able to validate our abilities to Guam with a temporary jump site Once we did that there was nothing stopping us from doing it on Rota Island We took what we knew was going to work and we were the first THAAD battery in the world to deploy a remote launch kit outside of testing.
Although this move to Rota was only temporary, it was essential to prove that the Remote Launch Kit is a valuable asset to the THAAD system. The Air Defense Battery also wanted to show a sign of strength and defense for all who live on the island chain.
“There is a misconception that we are only protecting Andersen Air Base,” Gonsalves added. “By bringing a launcher here, we can show everyone here in Rota that we are not only an organization that defends military assets, but that we are also here to protect their safety.”
However, there were also challenges to overcome during the operation. Due to competing airlift requirements, the initial airlift plan fell through, but by leveraging relationships, 94th AAMDC planners were able to switch on the fly. The 535th Air Lift Squadron and 735th Air Mobility Squadron from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and the 732nd Air Mobility Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, came out to make sure the mission could be accomplished.
“As the primary handler of cargo and passengers in the Indo-Pacific, the 515th AMOW is committed to enabling power projection for our mutual partners,” said Col. Dan Cooley, 515th AMOW commander. “Talon Lightning, integrated with our Nodal Lightning exercise, has been a great opportunity for our versatile Airmen to improve their skills, conduct integrated mobility operations, and ensure that nodal capability is never the limiting factor. “
The 715th Air Mobility Operations Group provided additional support. “For this exercise, we deployed three teams of 12 members. The teams are comprised of aircraft maintainers, airlift specialists, a cyberspace support specialist and a logistics readiness officer,” said Maj. Douglas Ruark, director of operations for the 715th. “By supporting this movement, we are able to demonstrate the combatant commander’s ability to rapidly deploy and redeploy forces in theater as required. By exercising regularly with our Joint Force partners, we are also able to practice more realistic scenarios, meet our operational needs, and build rapport and familiarity with each other’s processes.
Once on the ground in Rota, the team immediately got to work setting up their site, positioning the launcher and orchestrating communication needs.
The role of ensuring there was communication between the THAAD launcher on Rota and the tactical fire control center in Guam was the responsibility of a team assigned to Hawaii’s 307th ESB-E. They provided installation and operation of the Army’s newest tactical communications tool – the Transportable Tactical Command Communications System which would allow the launcher to interface with the docking station’s TFCC radar.
“Being able to do my work on a large scale, not just for training, was great; I love what I do,” said Cpl. Matthew Vadino, 307th ESB-E. “From setting up all of our stuff and getting to work, I feel good about the job we’ve done and it really feels like mission accomplished.”
Expectations for the exercise were high, but thanks to the abilities of the entire team, they were met. THAAD’s newest piece of equipment, the Remote Launch Kit, has proven itself.
“I am very pleased with the results of the operation, but I also couldn’t be happier with the performance of our soldiers,” Hermanson said. “We must have the right systems, in the right place with the right soldiers at the right time in order to carry out our mission.”
The future prospect of what THAAD is capable of remains to be seen. For now, the ability to expand and better protect the Mariana Islands chain is what E-3 is focused on.
“Protecting our homeland is our number one priority,” Hermanson commented. “With validation of the new capabilities, we have the ability to dynamically project forces into the area of responsibility and enable freedom of movement in the Indo-Pacific region.”