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AFSOC’s Next-Gen Emerald Warrior

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brandon Esau
  • AFSOC Public Affairs

Each year, Air Force Special Operations Command takes on the all-important role as host for U.S. Special Operations Command’s exercise Emerald Warrior, a joint exercise which brings together U.S. special operations and conventional forces and those of its international partners and allies to prepare for current and future challenges.

In years past, the exercise focused on counter violent extremist organization efforts through enhanced teamwork, but EW 21.1 moved toward less direct action. This year, Emerald Warrior exposed operators to concepts they may not encounter in daily training to increase readiness, effectiveness and make them more dynamic.

“This year, we’ve expanded outside of our normal focal area to an all-domain construct, whether it be the increased use of space, cyber, intelligence, public affairs and information operations,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kevin Koenig, commander of Emerald Warrior. “Our goal is to be prepared in all domains to deter adversaries now and avoid future conflicts. We’re also testing new elements within the command while still maintaining our partner nation and joint training.”

As with each iteration, Emerald Warrior is aligned with the National Defense Strategy of competing against near-peer adversaries and addressing the great power competition, but increased interconnectivity and information becoming a part of multiple domains, EW 21.1’s focus shifted to shaping environments through different avenues.

One avenue was that of the cyberspace realm where, according to U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Louis Schuler, cyber liaison officer with Emerald Warrior, competitors are continuing to build up capabilities in this domain so the U.S., its allies and partners must meet the challenge.

“The cyber domain is getting bigger and bigger because of the prevalence of technology expansion amongst our competitors,” Schuler said. “Our greatest strength is our ability to establish connectivity between different domains, so we must utilize our advantages so we can exploit the vulnerabilities of our adversaries and protect our operators.”

Alongside cyber proficiency, U.S. Space Force Guardians had an increased role in which they’re able to test new constructs that will support SOF even more.

“Our main focus was to provide situational awareness to the command and our operators on what’s going on around the world, kind of a peek around the curtain,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Kevin Aneshansley, Chief of Space Weapons and Tactics with AFSOC. “Essentially, we looked at new ways we can integrate the high ground more efficiently with our human capital. Without space advantages, we would be doing ourselves a disservice when it comes to the great power competition.”

Aneshansley stated that a paradigm shift has occurred in this year’s version of Emerald Warrior in which satellite communications and GPS were more heavily involved, and space electronic warfare is being used to make the force more efficient, more integrated at tactical levels, and our warfighter even more effective.

In addition to introducing new capabilities in air, space and cyberspace, the exercise had continued to be a forum of collaboration between the U.S. and forces from Lithuania and France.

“AFSOC Airmen have the ability to flex and adapt to any problem set,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Ibsen, commander of Special Operations Air Component. “During this exercise, we’ve been able to demonstrate our use of soft powers, with less kinetic operations, to execute the mission while still supporting our foreign partners and allies.”

Ibsen said a significant part of the multi-national cooperation during Emerald Warrior this year was the increased spotlight put on the combat air advisor mission of the 492nd Special Operations Wing.

“Our operators have been able to make use of the CAA’s mission set and abilities to communicate objectives with our Lithuanian and French counterparts,” Ibsen said. “This has allowed for them to gain knowledge of tools outside their normal environment which will enhance the skillset they already possess.”

Emerald Warrior in 2021 brought about the latest in air, space and cyberspace methods in the age of the great power competition, and though the kinetic aspects of the exercise still existed, exercise architects believe the soft powers that AFSOC possess, and will possess, will help the command remain relevant into the future.

“In AFSOC, we’re focused on investing in our human capital and testing new concepts to arm our warfighters with the tools to secure the advantage,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Martin, Director of Operations for AFSOC. “The training our forces received during Emerald Warrior is a testament to the commitment we have to the AFSOC we will need.”