AK23 joint command, control, communication

  • Published
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa

When life is hanging in the balance during personnel recovery, one thing emerges as essential for success, maintaining communication. It can be the key to coordinating, collaborating and decision making which then leads to a rescue.

During Astral Knight 2023 (AK23), U.S. service members came together and participated alongside Croatian, Albanian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Romanian armed forces to evaluate their Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control and personnel recovery capabilities throughout the Balkans.

To get it started the 1st Combat Communications Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, played a key role in the exercise making sure all participating services were synchronized and set up rapidly. They established networks, antennas, and dishes to ensure proper channels were available for interaction. 

“Our goal was to get communication networks up and running for the U.S. to transmit with our partner nations,” said Senior Airman Robert Recrut, 1st CBCS cyber defense operations specialist. “Without comms the personnel recovery missions wouldn’t be possible.”

During the USAFE-AFAFRICA-led AK23, an Integrated Air and Missile Defense exercise, participating nations conducted land and water combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions, assessing their interaction techniques, while simultaneously learning from one another. 

“The overall communications and linkage of the nations in the exercise is the most important thing,” said Croatian Air Force Lt. Col. Vlado Pavlinec, training and exercise officer. “Nobody can do anything alone nowadays. Everything must be multinational and joint operational. Not only do partnerships improve our capabilities, but also the commitment we have with one another.” 

Various assets were used to accomplish joint missions like the U.S. Air Force HC-130 Hercules and HH-60G Pave Hawks, Croatian and Albanian Navy vessels and Croatian and Romanian helicopters. This supplied insight to new participating members on how operations are conducted and new ways of executing missions.

“This is the first time we commence this type of training; with the helicopters approaching this close,” said Albanian Navy Lt. Lorenc Demiri, 2nd Patrol Group ship commander. “It makes us feel more confident with our capabilities, and now we can do CSAR.”

Linking combined capabilities gave the participating forces the ability to command and control assets in a degraded warfighting environment and advanced their collective abilities to conduct rescue missions.

“When it comes to personnel recovery in a multinational environment, communication is not just important, but critical for mission success,” said ROUAF Capt. Alexandru Dumitrache, CSAR detachment commander. “Time is extremely sensitive, and information needs to be passed to and between all the need-to-know members in the shortest possible time. Once the command to execute is given, coordination is key for accomplishing the assigned task.”

The tasks and operations under AK23 have come a long way since its start in 2019 and continues to evolve and expand. 

“Playing on the same sheet of music says a lot to adversaries,” said Pavlinec. “It shows them that we are ready, that we are supporting each other, and that we are a team.”

There is a need for enhanced U.S. presence in Europe and exercise Astral Knight 2023 supports a well-prepared NATO force to respond to threats in the region. The commitment to the collective defense of NATO is unwavering and is part of strengthening deterrence and defense within its eastern flank.