ORANGE, Conn. –
The 103d Air Control Squadron of the Connecticut Air National Guard is the first unit in the National Guard to have completed the mission systems operator, or MSO, conversion and will also be part of more modernization efforts including testing cutting edge equipment like the Tactical Operations Center - Light and the TPY-4 radar as the Air Force and Air National Guard look over the horizon and ready themselves to be able to respond to any potential future conflict.
According to their website, the unit, based in Orange, provides “air battle management, radar surveillance, air space control, and long haul communication capabilities to plan and execute combined air operations, air superiority and air strike ground attack operations. Additionally, the 103d ACS provides state authorities with a dedicated force ready to react to local and national emergencies.”
To conduct air battle management, radar surveillance and airspace control, the 103d ACS relies on a team of highly proficient air battle managers, or ABM’s, weapons directors, or WD’s and mission systems operators, or MSO’s, within their command and control section, led by Connecticut Air National Guard Maj. Seth Bopp.
The MSO position is a newly created specialty that combines and streamlines three separate technician fields: surveillance technician, air surveillance technician and interface control technician.
The majority of the MSO’s within the 103d ACS were formally one of these three positions.
Additionally, the 103d ACS laid the foundation for all future MSO’s within the Air National Guard as they were the ones who created a training curriculum, which once approved, became the standard operating procedure for the MSO conversion training.
“We authored the syllabus for the [MSO] conversion and sent it to NGB for approval,” said Bopp. “It’s being used as a template for all ten Air National Guard CRCs (Control and Reporting Centers) [during the conversion].”
Despite the position being in its infancy, the 103d ACS has its operators constantly training using simulations designed to mimic real world conditions. Additionally, the MSOs are completely integrated with the ABM’s and WD’s within the section, which enhances unit cohesion and facilitates a better understanding of their role in command and control.
When they aren’t training, these MSO’s, ABM’s and WD’s work around the clock supporting pilots out of regional air bases such as Atlantic City Air National Guard Base, Barnes Air National Guard Base and Vermont Air National Guard Base as they conduct real-world flight operations.
"Airmen here are not just training for contingency operations; we have operators controlling live-fly events weekly," said Connecticut Air National Guard Major Katriina Clegg, the 103d ACS Commander. “I am impressed with their dedication to the mission and the hard work they put in daily.”
One such operation took place on Oct. 31, as F-15 aircraft out of Barnes Air National Guard Base conducted a simulated Defensive Counter-Air Operations mission. During this operation, MSO’s, ABM’s and WD’s from the 103d ACS monitored and analyzed radar returns to inform friendly pilots of a flight of incoming opposing force aircraft. After identifying the aircraft to be hostile fighters, the team from the 103d ACS determined the type of aircraft the simulated enemy were flying, their combat capabilities and their objective within the 103d ACS’ airspace. Following this initial situation report, operators from the 103d ACS kept friendly pilots informed throughout their dogfights by constantly updating them with changes in enemy activity. This persistent filtering and dissemination of information gave our aviators the upper-hand and enabled them to come out on top without any casualties during their defense.
In addition to providing operators to support flight training, the 103d ACS also routinely deploys on its own and or to augment active duty command and control units when needed, usually in the event a unit needs additional manpower. For the airmen of the 103d ACS, this historically has meant deploying boots on the ground to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility, or CENTCOM. However, in some cases, airmen are able to accomplish their mission by controlling airspace in theater from command and control centers stateside.
Notably, the 103d ACS was the first, and last, Air Force unit to control airspace over Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror. The unit first controlled airspace over the country after being transferred the responsibility from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003, and lastly, during the Kabul Airlift in 2021. Throughout that deployment, the 103d ACS controlled a 4.1 million square mile area of responsibility.