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AF, Navy team up to save money with communications tower

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The Air Force is constantly looking for innovative ideas and solutions to save money and resources, and this effort recently paid off by utilizing a sister service asset to create a huge cost saving solution.

The 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group teamed up with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Naval Support Activity Panama City, to utilize the Navy’s recently-built communications tower to replace the 53rd WEG’s unserviceable and outdated Gulf Range Drone Control System tower. These towers are essential for triangulating communications for controlling unmanned drones over the Gulf of Mexico.

This innovative investment took approximately one year to accomplish and will save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

“We identified an impending shortfall and we sought innovative solutions,” said Col. Lance Wilkins, the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group commander. “By doing that, instead of buying a new tower outright, we were able to take an innovative idea and free up time, money and resources that can be better utilized elsewhere.”

Constructing a new tower would have cost an estimated $700,000, and leasing a commercial tower would cost approximately $9,000 annually.

Due to good relationships with the Navy, the 53rd WEG was able to avoid a potential mission failure by using assets already in place.

“Our tower is over 50 years old,” said Capt. Katie Johnson, the 53rd Test Support Squadron director of engineering. “If anything were to happen to that tower or our antennas on it, we wouldn't be able to conduct our critical Weapon System Evaluation Programs, an Air Combat Command-directed mission. Also, due to changes in an environmental impact study, we were not able to build a replacement tower in that same area.”

During the initial search for the tower location, 53rd TSS engineer Bill Camp and his wife came up with the idea to see if any local condos or businesses would be able to support adding an additional antenna on an existing tower. At the 53rd TSS morale picnic, Bill and his wife spotted a tower that seemed to be in a great location on the Panama City beaches. After further investigation, they found that the tower belonged to the Navy.“The old tower was in an area that had a lot of interference that was cutting into the frequency we were using,” Camp said. “The new tower is in prime location, with not only a better reach over the Gulf, but with lower noise levels as well.”

After communicating with the Navy, the 53rd WEG and Navy representatives installed a temporary GRDCS antenna, ran initial tests and determined the antennas would work perfect on their tower, Johnson said.

“We had a lot of people who helped us out with this,” Johnson said. “From the teams at Eglin AFB, who helped coordinate the initial frequency tests, to the contractors here, as well as working directly with the Navy’s program offices. There were a lot of organizations that needed to come together to make this happen.”

The 53rd WEG is also providing the new tower with upgraded enhanced lightning protection, protecting not only their equipment, but all of the current naval equipment on the tower.

The 53rd WEG commander attributes the partnership’s success to good relationships and the hard working people in the 53rd TSS.

“Building relationships, and sustaining those relationships in a joint environment, is absolutely essential to optimizing resources,” Wilkins said. “In this line of work, it takes consummate professionals to get the job done. The ability to go above and beyond that takes special types of folks, and that is what we have in the TSS.”

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