Airborne Air Control; managing the battle space

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tiffany Prie
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Checkered Flag 22-1, a large-force aerial exercise hosted by Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, provided over 90 fourth- and fifth-generation airframes from across the Department of Defense an opportunity to complete air-to-air combat missions over the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

A battle space this large required the watchful eyes of the 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron and the E-3 Sentry. The E-3 is an airborne warning and control system aircraft, ran by a crew made up of multiple career fields. This crew made these missions of training and projecting unrivaled combat airpower possible.

The E-3, commonly known as the AWACS, provides situational awareness to assist friendly forces in achieving tactical and strategic goals. Pilots, navigators, flight engineers, air battle managers, mission system operators and airborne technicians are all needed aboard the AWACS to provide a bird’s eye view of the entire battle space.

“A ground-based radar system like the one the 81st Air Control Squadron runs for Tyndall is a great system for the fixed area where training traditionally takes place,” said Royal Canadian Air Force Captain Matthew Noel, 964th AACS, air battle manager. “The AWACS, however, can provide the same type of control anywhere on planet earth if required.”

One of the best parts about being an air battle manager, according to Noel, is being able to take part in the fight by providing situational awareness and tactical calls to the fighters who are under the AWACS area of control. This allows pilots to pursue the correct targets, navigate a battle and survive.

“The idea that my inputs and calls can change the course of a battle while working with the tactical situation presented is extremely rewarding,” said Noel. “A single fighter intercept takes less than 10 minutes from start to finish, but can be a [critical] factor in a four hour mission."

Checkered Flag provided the AWACS crew an opportunity to participate in daily air-to-air combat missions that incorporated both fourth- and fifth-generation airframes like F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-22 Raptors and even aircraft from other branches as the U.S. Navy participated in the 22-1 iteration as well.

“The fighters and command and control are a package deal for greater mission success and there are no fighters located with us at Tinker,” said Noel. “Checkered Flag provided some great opportunities to interact with different fighter [airframes] who were all focused on the same mission rather than having both an air and land mission component.”

Participating in large force exercises like Checkered Flag prepares pilots, aircrews and ground operations for the worst, sets them up for mission success and promotes air dominance.