JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Calmly soaring at 30,000 feet in the midst of nearly 100 fighters, bombers and refueling tankers executing a battle scenario, an Air Force E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveys every aircraft in a 300 mile radius, calling out commands, verifying target hits and sending aircraft back home safely.
Threat detection, improvisation, air battle management - it was all part of a typical mission for the E-3G crew of the U.S. Air Force 964th and 966th Airborne Air Control Squadron (AACS), Oklahoma City during Exercise Northern Edge 2015 in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.
"We provide the command and control of the aircraft. It's our job to oversee what's going on, and in real time, make changes in the air," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Dan Sprunger, 964th AACS mission crew commander. "We run the tanker plan so when guys need gas, we send them there. If guys need to fall out, we shift aircraft around. We're like the chess master of the game."
With as many as 24 weapons officers, surveillance officers, radar and communication technicians, and flight deck crew on a single E-3G Northern Edge mission, the AACS gained not only valuable, high-tempo warfare experience, but also met specific testing goals. The E-3G aircraft carries an upgraded computer platform for their weapons and surveillance scopes, known as the 4045. It advances their old operating system by about 30 years. Northern Edge enabled AWACS personnel to try the new system and they quickly learned the value of the new features.
"It provides more situational awareness," said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Breann Hermann, 964th AACS air weapons officer. "You can personalize it and now you can build unlimited airspaces. It's more reliable and more technologically advanced."
After each mission, the crew provides feedback how the 4045 system worked and offer potential areas of improvement. Overall, it's been a success.
"The system cuts down on [operator's] steps. The ease of use is drastically higher, and the tracking process goes faster," Sprunger said.
By the end of the two-week, biannual Northern Edge exercise, the AACS' squadrons will have completed approximately 15 command and control missions using both old and new systems. Both AWACS aircraft effectively brought dozens of aircraft in and out of the battle range safely and successfully hitting their targets.
Alaska's premier joint training exercise, Northern Edge combined approximately 200 military aircraft from all services to practice operations, techniques and procedures while simultaneously enhancing interoperability within the JPARC and the Navy's Temporary Maritime Activities Area located in the Gulf of Alaska. Some 6,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units participated.