By Staff Sgt. Monik PhanSeptember 14, 2017
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea -- More than four stories below ground, Soldiers from the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade provide 24/7 real-time surveillance of the tactical ballistic missile threat on the Korean Peninsula. Known as the "Dungeon Dragons," these teams of Soldiers are essential in monitoring, receiving and disseminating information to ensure U.S. ballistic missile defense is prepared to respond to any threats in the Korean theater of operations.
From the most southern point in South Korea to the 38th parallel, the 8th Army mantra of 'fight tonight' reverberates throughout every unit along the way. This motto is embraced by the Soldiers of both the Fire Direction Center and Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Officer office, who coordinate on the early detection of missile threats on the peninsula.
"The primary mission of the FDC and the ADAFCO is to provide situational awareness to our brigade commander on the Korean Peninsula," said Staff Sgt. Raul Duenas, an air defense battle management system operator with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
As an air defense battle management system operator, Duenas works in the Fire Direction Center and monitors multiple systems that provide a common operating picture of tactical ballistic missiles and air breathing threats. The images are depicted with detailed information to enable his team to submit time-sensitive reports both vertically and horizontally for 360-degree situational awareness when a missile is launched.
"If something were to happen, we would be the first people to know about it," said Duenas. "We will be the first ones to see it. We will have to quickly react to make the necessary phone calls and disseminate information about the event."
The Fire Direction Center and Air Defense Artillery Fire Control Officer office personnel work around the clock to ensure every potential threat is observed. Their systems are always collecting and saving data so they can quickly analyze the information to prepare and consolidate situational reports for the brigade command team.
"Our job is to monitor the screens to see the first signs of any threat," said Spc. Ryan Buchanan, an Air Defense Enhanced Early Warning Operator from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. "We are the ones that monitor the radars and see what happens in the air."
The brigade's monitoring systems are capable of identifying the type of missile that is launched with the use of their advance radar technology, said Spc. Christopher Lee, an air defense battle management system operator from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
Due to the North Korea threat, the brigade is always conducting training to help their units stay prepared, said Pfc. Dorold Nguyen, a Patriot Fire Control Enhanced Operator/Maintainer with the brigade. The units are always training to ensure everything is fully missioned capable and batteries are at the directed posture of readiness.
One of the most essential components within the Air Defense Artillery community is the data-link architecture that allows units to communicate with each other while they are geographically dispersed. Although there are measures in place for units to fight autonomously if needed, the brigade is most effective when communication links are networked.
"We are always testing our communication links between batteries and battalions to make sure they stay running," said Nguyen. "When everyone passes the information amongst each other, it helps us fight together."
The brigade recently completed an internal exercise with their Republic of Korea - Army Air Defense Artillery counterparts at Osan Air Base in order to prepare for the annual peninsula-wide exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian. The purpose of the training was to ensure the brigade operation centers, along with the crews that fight the air battles during Ulchi Freedom Guardian, are familiar with their systems and processes.
One of the biggest benefits of the combined exercise is the ability to conduct training and implement battle drills through digitized simulations, said Staff Sgt. Jordan R. Hobbs, an air defense battle management system operator with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
The brigade's combined exercise reinforced the leadership's emphasis of enhancing interoperability. Due to the high rate of turnover in the Korean theater of operations, there is a premium on conducting joint training events to maintain enduring relationships. Furthermore, the more the units work together in a training capacity, the better prepared they will be for real-world events.
Christopher Tarpley, event lead from Missile Defense Agency, explains the Air Defense Artillery exercises in Korea are simulated scenarios that provide a baseline of understanding of how the South Korean military and its allied forces could defend themselves during an attack, such as a tactical ballistic missile threat from North Korea.
During the exercises, Soldiers with the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade coordinate with the Republic of Korea air force and the army to de-conflict airspace amongst each other. They are able to utilize each other's systems to identify different types of aircrafts and other objects that are visible in the airspace they monitor.
The 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade continues to implement combined and joint training whenever possible to enhance readiness and leverage capabilities. At each echelon throughout the brigade, combined and joint operations are planned to improve interoperability. The next large-scale, peninsula-wide training exercise is Key Resolve, and will occur in the winter of 2018.