by Spc. Michael Scott
CAMP DOHA, Kuwait, (Army News Service, April 30, 1998) -- Ranging in rank from specialist to colonel, approximately 30 soldiers can normally be found in the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command force protection tactical operations center at any one time, intensely monitoring the airspace over Southwest Asia via computer.
Suddenly, the voice of the battle captain rings out over the speaker with the cry of "lightning, lightning, lightning" and flashing red highlights the tactical operations center. In a flurry, soldiers leap into motion sending information back and forth through the command post and to and from the maneuver units in the field.
Scud tactical ballistic missiles have been launched from within Iraq. Instantaneously, the soldiers here start spitting out the data coming across their computer screens in well-rehearsed voices that refuse to betray their emotions.
Within seconds of the launch, the Scuds' trajectories are computed and the launch sites pinpointed. Then the surface-to-surface missiles' predicted impact points are calculated, and early warning messages are "beeped" via digital pagers to the commanders in the field whose units will be affected once the missiles strike ... If it should come to that.
Simultaneously, the intelligence analyst inform the battle captain of the locations within the launch areas that are supporting the Scud launchers with maintenance and refueling operations as well as probable launchers' "hide" sites.
Within minutes of the launch, the attack operations section sends out the coordinates from where the Scuds were launched to the Deep Operations Coordination Center, where field artillery and/or aircraft will be coordinated to counterattack the enemy missile sites and their supporting peripherals.
Meanwhile, the TOC active defense cell tracks the firing of the Patriot surface-to-air missiles from either the two Kuwaiti air defense battalions and/or from either U.S. task force 1-1 ADA or 3-43 ADA, which then rise up to intercept the incoming TBMs.
And just as suddenly as it began, it's over, and stillness fills the TOC as soldiers continue to analyze and reanalyze what has happened, while still continuing to monitor the region's airspace.
Of course, this is just a scenario, a part of a simulation exercise that is frequently run at the TOC here. But its details mirror reality, since more than 100 soldiers assigned or attached to the 32nd AAMDC are deployed to this region as part of the American build-up of forces in Southwest Asia.
The 32nd AAMDC commands both Fort Bliss-stationed Patriot units (TF 1-1 ADA and TF 3-43 ADA) that are currently deployed to Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The soldiers arrived here in February to monitor Iraq's and the region's airspace and to conduct operations accordingly. Their job is to perform the critical theater-level air and missile defense planning, integration, coordination and execution functions for the U.S. Central Command here.
The Army with its Patriot missiles is the only branch of the armed services with the capability to shoot down TBMs, which is what the 32nd AAMDC is primarily focusing on here -- finding Scuds and their supporting peripherals before, during and after they launch. The 32nd AAMDC is consequently providing all the linkages to the joint coalition forces here in order to provide early warning and predicted points of impact in the event of a Scud launch, said Brig. Gen. Dennis D. Cavin, the 32nd AAMDC commander.
A new unit fielded in 1997, the 32nd AAMDC began as the brainchild of now retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner. By taking the lessons learned from Desert Storm and recognizing the command of all Patriot units in the theater was more than any one brigade could effectively handle, Garner envisioned one command that was able to coordinate and execute these functions at the theater level.
Garner's experimental TOC was assembled and implemented in the 1995 Roving Sands air defense exercise at Fort Bliss, and the unit's newly found legacy had begun.
In 1997, the TOC returned to Roving Sands with increased capabilities drawn from the lessons learned in '95. "We took to the field a robust capability, and in 1997 it was a great success," Cavin said. The TOC was able to find the enemy, find the Scud launchers and have them "killed" before they even launched.
The TOC then followed up its success during two other major joint exercises in '97, the Theater Missile Defense Initiative in Norfolk, Va., and Ulchi Focus Lens in Korea.
The unit was designated in the first week of January this year and is the heir apparent to the 32nd Army Air Defense Command. In fact, 32nd AAMDC soldiers even wear the same patch as the 32nd AADCOM.
The 32nd AAMDC wasn't scheduled to come on line until October, but the situation in Southwest Asia necessitated that 32nd AAMDC be called into action much sooner. This marked the first time that either the 32nd AAMDC or the 32nd AADCOM has been deployed in a combat zone.
But the 32nd AAMDC isn't just an isolated air defense artillery unit with a limited area of engagement; it's theater air and missile defense. The TOC provides the command for echelon-above-corps air defense operations. Even more importantly, it provides the theater missile defense operations for the land-component commander, said Lt. Col. Thomas A. Gray, 32nd AAMDC TOC battle captain.
What the TOC really does is synchronize the four pillars of air defense: passive defense; active defense; attack operations and battlefield management, command, control, computers and intelligence (BMC4I), Gray said.
In the passive defense arena, the TOC supports the theater as the executing agent in coordinating theater early warning for ground component activities. "The biggest thing going right now is the introduction of early warning to selected units through electronic pager notification," Gray said.
The TOC monitors the air picture. In the event of a TBM attack, TOC personnel will notify the soldiers at the expected impact site. In this manner, the soldiers in the field have a chance to protect themselves before an incoming missile impacts.
In the active defense realm, the 32nd AAMDC commands the two task forces and coordinates the effective protection of the commander's priority assets. In other words, the 32nd AAMDC has ensured the Patriot batteries here are protecting the critical, strategic assets that are needed by CENTCOM.
Through attack operations, the 32nd AAMDC also gives target information to the Army Central Command land-component commander. The TOC provides the expertise and analysis to determine what TBM sites and TBM-support locations should be targeted during offensive operations, Gray said.
The soldiers in the TOC are concerned with killing Scud infrastructure. For example, loading cranes, re-fueling vehicles, logistical supplies, communications nodes and Scud launcher hide spots are all probable targets, "anything we can do to destroy Iraq's capability to attack with theater ballistic missiles," Gray said.
The fourth pillar of air defense (BMC4I), however, is the pride and joy of the 32nd AAMDC. "It's what we do best," Gray said. The TOC also provides the intelligence preparation of the battlefield, the analysis that gives the joint coalition the where and how of what the Iraqi military is doing.
"We have the absolute best-trained force in the Army to prosecute intelligence analysis about enemy theater missile systems. We really have a bunch of good soldiers who can figure out where the enemy is and what he's got through the use of computers," Gray said.
If the 32nd AAMDC does the job correctly, the TOC will have interdicted Iraqi TBM launches before the missiles have even left the ground. But that's the hard part and remains why the Army has Patriot missiles, to be both proactive and reactive, Gray said.
Yet the unit is more than a paper tiger. It stands as the only unit with the ability to coordinate theater air defense, and in a world where the TBM-threat is proliferating, a necessity.
To prepare for this scenario, the 32nd AAMDC is continuously training, while maintaining an operational capability to support the commander-in-chief's initiatives. "We're taking advantage of the operations tempo to conduct continuous, realistic training via simulation input from the U.S. Space and Missile Defense Battle Laboratory," Gray said. "Every day, we're running simulations and doing what we would do if we were actually in live conflict in order to maintain the proficiency."
(Editor's note: Scott is the public affairs specialist for the 32nd U.S. Army Air and Missile Defense Command.)