United Architecture exercise builds unity between United Kingdom, U.S. military forces

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
Thirty-eight Airmen from the 5th Combat Communications Group and 32 servicemembers from the Royal Air Force's 3 Field Communications Squadron in the 90 Signals Unit came together in Americus, Ga., for what would be their fourth United Architecture Exercise.

In such exercises in years past, the two units designed an air operability manual that would be deployed along with communications equipment sent to the area of responsibility. Now, the units are validating their capabilities' workability in the field.

While the field exercise, which took shape June 18- 29, is in its fourth round, Maj. Corey Ramsby, 54th Combat Communications Squadron commander and U.S. exercise commander for the event, said it's the first time the group has deployed into a Basic Expeditionary Airfield Resources field environment in this exercise mode.

"This is the fourth in the United Architecture series," he said. "The first time, they got together to kind of see where they were and they started developing interoperability techniques. They actually started documenting those interoperability techniques. Last year, we went to RAF (Royal Air Force) Fairford in Gloucestershire, England. We actually deployed equipment and they set it up and we validated those techniques."

Major Ramsby said this year's exercise carried their efforts to the next level.

"This year, what we've done is taken those interoperabilities that they were technically able to prove in a lab environment and we have deployed it into a field environment, simulating a BEAR base environment," he said. "It works great in the lab, but how does it work in the field? That's what we're doing this week."

Exercise participants learned a great deal under pressure and under the nearly unbearable Southwest Georgia heat.

SAC Claire Cullen, who is in the RAF 90 Signals Unit's 3 FCS and serves as an Exercise Control Team member responsible for setting up scenarios in the exercise, said despite the awesome heat and humidity, the two-week exercise was very valuable.

"It has been good to see the other side of it - how things are run from an exercise control point of view," she said. "It has given us good insight into how the United States Air Force works as well. More and more, we're deploying together and working with the Americans."

Sqd. Ldr. Justin Gilroy, commanding officer for the 90 Signals Unit's 3 Field Communications Squadron at RAF Brize Norton, England, said the exercise has opened his eyes to the groups' similarities.

"I've learned that the way we do business and what we do is actually incredibly similar," he said. "We're a lot closer than you might think and our ability to operate together has been proven again in terms of our outlook, our approach, and how we do business. It's actually more similar than I'd realized."

Even with the similarities, challenges remained for the group, Squadron Leader Gilroy said.

"What we're replicating here is as if we are going away and we were setting up an airfield in a foreign country on short notice," he said. "We're providing all the communications that would be used in that kind of scenario. So, effectively, we've got satellite communications which would link us back into the UK (United Kingdom) to the communications of the structure. That allows us to make telephone calls to basically any UK location, both back in the mainland and Europe, but also to other operations around the world as we need to."

Squadron Leader Gilroy said the capabilities also enable the two services to meet information technology needs as well.

Hot and humid conditions took their toll on some of the groups' communications equipment. But, fortunately, air conditioned tents were set up to alleviate the situation.

Sgt. Dave Berrisford, who is with the RAF 90 Signals Unit's 3 FCS and served as the senior technician in the exercise, said although the area's hot and humid weather conditions are somewhat different than the dry heat experienced in the Middle East, the exercise still brings good results.

"I think this is one of the best exercises I've ever done in relation to working with our coalition, i.e. the U.S. Air Force," he said. "I've worked with them many times, but this is the best exercise I've completed that involves ourselves and interoperability."

Airman 1st Class David Hill, satellite communications, wideband apprentice in the 54th CBCS who participated in the exercise for the first time, said he has gained a wealth of knowledge from the experience.

"This has probably been one of the biggest learning experiences I've had since being in the Air Force," he said. "It has given me an opportunity to really see more about what we do than I would normally see, because we are really opening up our channels of communication and the way we use our equipment. This is giving us the opportunity to do things we wouldn't normally do."

While Major Ramsby said the future of the exercise is uncertain at this point, the groups have already made great strides in building a better working relationship.

"This has really grown from a couple of guys sitting down and looking at technical drawings to where we deploy our units to a BEAR base environment, actually delivering interoperable communications for a coalition user," he said.

The major said the exercise has been a worthwhile tool for both services to grow in their missions together.