Building on Guard site starts

Project to house 3 wing missions

FORT SMITH -- The Arkansas Air National Guard broke ground Tuesday on construction of a 40,000-square-foot building that will put all three of the 188th Wing's major missions under one roof.

In a ceremony at Ebbing Air National Guard Base, the 188th's commander, Col. Robert Kinney, said the $14.2 million building that will house the wing's remotely piloted aircraft, distributed ground station and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance missions in one structure is expected to be completed in 2020.

"Upon completion, this Razorback Operation Center, as this facility will be known, will be the only facility in the world which will house all three mission sets," Kinney told the crowd of about 100 military officials, congressional representatives, community leaders and airmen.

Among those present Tuesday were Arkansas Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Mark Berry, Arkansas Air Guard Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Joe Wilson, Col. [Ret.] Steve Eggensperger representing Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders.

Berry said he believed the 188th's missions were important in maintaining the nation's national security, an asset that will employ many airmen and guarantee the long-term survival of the Arkansas National Guard.

Combining the three missions under one roof, Kinney said, will lead to innovations, efficiencies and synergies that will help operators and analysts collaborate to solve problems in carrying out their missions around the world.

"This just didn't happen," Sanders said. "It took a lot of support from the governor's office, the congressional delegation, and it demonstrates the confidence in the leadership of the 188th."

The 188th's missions are more important today given the complicated world for the military to navigate. Kinney said the newly released National Defense Strategy, among other things, refocuses attention on strategic competitors Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and transnational groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida.

They will challenge the United States, short of armed conflict, he said, and blur the lines between civil and military force.

"We here at the 188th are primarily focused day to day on the counter-insurgency fight," he said. "In parallel, we will continue to prepare for the strategic fight as the National Defense Strategy provides."

The 188th took on the new missions after losing its long-held flying mission in 2014 when the wing's A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, nicknamed the Warthogs, were reassigned.

Kinney said the wing was put on a tight schedule to transition to the new missions, completing six years of hiring in six months and training more than 500 personnel in two years.

The remotely piloted aircraft mission moved into a 5,000-square-foot classified facility where combat missions took place around the clock. The distributed ground station targeting mission is in a 3,500-square-foot classified space. A renovated 20,000-square-foot operations space houses the intelligence surveillance reconnaissance group headquarters.

Putting those missions into action was accomplished in three years, Kinney said.

"We do support combat and command requirements 24/7/365 around the world," Kinney said. "I can't talk about where those are, but we certainly have that capability."

NW News on 02/14/2018