U.S. 704th Test Group Successfully Leads Directed Energy Experimentation Campaign

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February 12, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: February 12 on

After the success of the first range experiment of the Directed Energy Experimentation Campaign at White Sands Missile Range, in October 2018, the 704th Test Group’s Directed Energy Combined Test Force is now planning future experiments in support of the campaign. The Air Force Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, tasked the 704th TG Directed Energy Combined Task Force at Kirtland Air Force Base to execute the DE Experimentation Campaign. The task force is an operating unit of Arnold Engineering Development Complex, which is headquartered at Arnold AFB, Tennessee.

The Directed Energy Combined Task Force was developed after the secretary of the Air Force signed the Air Force Directed Energy Weapons Flight Plan, charting a course to transition DE weapons to operational users. Part of the flight plan, headed by the SDPE office, is to execute the DE Experimentation Campaign.

According to John Cao, director of the DE CTF, the objective of the initial DE experiment was to understand capabilities and limitations offered by existing, off-the-shelf high power microwave and high energy laser systems against group 1 and group 2 unmanned aerial systems. “The test scenario was air base defense against small unmanned aerial systems,” he said. “Two industry systems, one high power microwave and one high energy laser, were evaluated, with more than 220 vertical-lift and fixed-wing UAS sorties flown as threats.”

To obtain operator feedback, Air Force security force members from Kirtland AFB, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and Edwards AFB, California, operated the DE systems. “Valuable data were collected to address the experiment’s objective,” Cao said. “Now we’re in the planning stages of conducting more DE experiments.”

The DE experiments are meant to provide further understanding on how DE capabilities can be used and progressed. “The Department of Defense has demonstrated that DE weapons can negate threats,” Cao said. “However, transitioning the DE technology is a different story. We must also understand concept of operations, tactics, techniques and procedures along with the potential implications to doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and policy. The campaign’s primary goal is to understand these areas.”

Col. Scott Cain, AEDC commander, recently praised the work being done by the DE CTF team. “The 704th Test Group’s Directed Energy CTF did a phenomenal job representing the Air Force Test Center and demonstrating their leadership in the Directed Energy experimentation at White Sands Missile Range,” he said. “Mr. John Cao, the Directed Energy CTF Director, led a live counter-UAS test demonstration to multiple senior executive service and general officers from across the Air Force, and he gave a great talk on the CTF construct the 704th has built that”s the engine behind this experiment.

“John and several others in the 704th, and one member of the 96th were singled out by Mr. Thomas Lockhart, SDPE Director, for their contributions to the experiment. I have received many compliments from the office of the Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and the Air Force Research Laboratory, among others, on how the 704th is making another experiment happen for the Air Force.”

Brig. Gen. Christopher Azzano, Air Force Test Center commander, said the 704th TG is “synonymous with ‘experimentation.”

The 704th TG has also supported other SDPE experimentation campaigns, such as the Air Force Light Attack Experiment, a series of trials using light aircraft in attack roles.