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961st Airborne Warning and Control System Provides 'Eyes' for Cope Tiger 17

By Staff Sgt. Kamaile Chan | Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs | March 31, 2017

KORAT ROYAL THAI AIR FORCE BASE, Thailand -- In its 23rd iteration, Exercise Cope Tiger, a joint multilateral field training exercise, provides a unique opportunity for U.S., Thai and Singaporean military members to train together, increasing combat readiness and interoperability throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The exercise incorporates multiple types of training including: airborne and land-based control of aerial missions; electronic warfare, mission planning, in-flight interoperability, basic maneuver training and close air support training.

Participating flying forces are divided into two teams to effectively accomplish the diverse training and maximize interoperability and sharing of tactics, techniques and procedures.

With a combined total of 76 aircraft and 43 air defense assets participating in CT17, an integral part of the exercise is the U.S. Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft assigned to the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron from the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

The 961st AACS is a combat-ready E-3 squadron providing airborne command and control, long-range surveillance, detection and identification information—capabilities that set the U.S. Air Force apart from other nations.

This year, three members of the Royal Thai air force, who typically operate their command and control on the ground, were able to fly with the AWACS crew during large force employment exercise 10. During exercise 10, more than 50 aircraft from the three nations worked together under simulated combat stressors at the same time.

“Traditionally, lines of communication are limited to what is visible within line of sight, or within the range of a ground radio or radar site,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Matthew Hannan, operations officer with the 961st AACS. “When we put a crew with that radio or radar at 30,000 feet in the air, it allows command and control of whatever we are doing to be put any place on the planet.”

During CT17, this capability serves to maximize interoperability between the U.S., Thai and Singapore militaries. This is essential in tackling non-traditional security challenges such as maritime security and terrorism.

Hannan said, the E-3 plays a role in almost all of the training during CT17.

“In almost every aspect of this exercise, the E-3 is vital to mission success,” Hannan said. “We provide a 360 degree picture. And, with the capability to monitor in real-time exactly what is going on in the airspace, we are able to protect our fighters and address regional security challenges.”

Cope Tiger also allows the three nations' forces to work together in a combined air operations center. In the CAOC CT 17 forces focus on maintaining a common operating picture and executing command and control of forces.

“This is the first year that we've introduced an integrated and combined command and control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance cell,” said U.S Air Force Lt. Col. James McFarland, exercise director from the 44th Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan.

The E-3 protects fighters with passive detection systems which detect radar systems from ground to air. This enables the AWACS crew to warn aircraft of threats, increasing combat capability and allowing aircraft to adjust to those threats.

“We take information off the battlefield in real-time, we digest that information, we process it and we make decisions based off of it which enables us to execute dynamic targeting,” McFarland said.

As with any exercise, especially one where English is not the first language for two of the three participating nations, there can be challenges. The differing tactics, techniques and procedures—though a challenge—provide a valuable learning opportunity for all three nations.

“Regardless of the nations we are working with, whether it be here at Cope Tiger or during another exercise, we have to be very precise and clear in the way that we communicate and that skill can be applied when working with any partner nation that we train with in the future,” Hannan said.

The exercise is set to conclude March 31 with a closing ceremony.

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