Guardsmen Turn Combat Technology into Tool for Saving Lives

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Kurt M. Rauschenberg
  • 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Technology designed to increase the combat effectiveness of A-10 attack jets is now being used to prepare to help save lives according to Maryland Air National Guard officials.

A-10Cs from Maryland's 175th Wing participating in Exercise Vigilant Guard, an annual training exercise designed to prepare National Guard units to support civilian agencies during a major disaster or terrorist attack, provided emergency responders on the ground with unprecedented situational awareness using a Remote Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) to capture ground imagery to assist emergency first responders.

ROVER, an enhancement to the LITENING targeting pod, was originally intended to allow fighters to provide a direct video feed to troops on the ground, so they could guide airstrikes against enemy positions. But the same capability could also provide crucial real-time information to emergency first responders during a disaster, as the Maryland National Guard is now demonstrating.

The idea of using aircraft such as the A-10, which was designed to destroy enemy tanks and other ground targets, to rescue disaster victims might at first seem paradoxical. But the A-10's ability to carry sensors like ROVER give it a critical capability that can save lives.

"The ROVER device used in this exercise helps us by looking at the ground to sort out what exactly is going on and how to react," said Col. Timothy G. Smith, Maryland Air National Guard director of operations.

The scenario for this iteration of Exercise Vigilant Guard is an explosion that collapses part of a chemical production facility, causing mass casualties and trapping many people in the building. In the scenario, National Guard personnel and assets are called upon to assist civil authorities in coping with the disaster.

"Our capability to assist in this situation gives us a viable domestic mission and we are here to help in any way we can," Colonel Smith said.

When civilian agencies request Maryland National Guard resources to provide airborne incident awareness and assessment capabilities, two A-10Cs from the 175th Wing equipped with ROVER pods are launched. The jets orbit over the disaster area, providing a direct imagery feed to Maryland Joint Operations Center personnel, allowing them to make quick and accurate response decisions.

"This is the first time that IAA capabilities has been used on fixed-wing aircraft that can provide imagery from a higher distance and sustain longer in the air," said Col. Randolph J. Staudenraus, 175th Operations Group commander. Colonel Staudenraus explained that although these capabilities are primarily used in overseas operations, the same resources can be used in domestic crisis operations as well. "This is another step toward using our capabilities to assist the state by providing civilian first responders with the information needed to save lives on the ground," he said.