Total force AWACS ops support world's largest naval exercise

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Caleb Wanzer
  • 513th Air Control Group
Nearly 150 Airmen from the 513th Air Control Group and 552nd Air Control Wing are behind a total force effort to provide AWACS missions for the world’s largest maritime exercise.

Rim of the Pacific 2016, or RIMPAC, has grown to involve 26 nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, over 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel. It involves forces in and around the Hawaiian Islands as well as Southern California.

While the AWACS Airmen from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, have supported RIMPAC before, this year marks the first time active-duty and Air Force Reserve crews have worked together to provide consistent AWACS support to the exercise.

“We’ve accomplished some fantastic total force integration training,” said Maj. Anne Ridlon, a RIMPAC liaison officer assigned to the group’s 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron, the Air Force Reserve’s only AWACS flying squadron. “Although we’re able to work this closely with the 552nd back home, deploying together to a different location gives us more opportunities.”

In the missions flown so far, Ridlon said that RIMPAC has given the aircrews quite a few challenges not seen on a typical training sortie.

“We’ve had some great link communication training as well as experience for our electronic combat and air weapons officers,” she said.

In the next few days, Ridlon said the 513th and 552nd crews are looking forward to working closely with local F-22 Raptors as well as Navy P-3 Orion aircraft as the exercise develops.

“Right now we’re in the phase zero, or crawl phase, of the exercise,” said Staff Sgt. Haley Sherman, an intelligence specialist assigned to the 513th Operations Support Squadron. When exercise coordinators determine, RIMPAC will move into phase one and the multinational force will be one step closer to the culmination of the exercise: all-out war against a fictional country.

Keeping the E-3 Sentry aircraft in the air and in the exercise doesn’t happen on its own; it takes the work of more than 30 active-duty and Reserve maintenance Airmen, as well as specialized equipment airlifted from Tinker AFB, according to Senior Master Sgt. Alphonzo Glover, an accessories flight chief assigned to the 513th Maintenance Squadron.

“I think we’re doing really well on the maintenance side,” he said. “It’s unique having two detachment commanders and two different flying squadrons here, but communication has been really good.”

While the Reserve and active-duty units each brought the same number of maintenance Airmen, they opted to blend together for the morning and afternoon shifts to provide the best support as well as practice building new teams.

“We wanted to get our maintainers to a point where they’re comfortable no matter who they work with,” Glover said. “We won’t always know the people we’re deployed with, but we’ll still have the same job to do.”