Upgraded AWACS platform tested at Northern Edge

Maintenance crew members prepare a U.S. Air Force E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft for take off during Exercise Northern Edge June 25, 2015. Thousands of service members from all the branch services including active duty, Reserve and National Guard units participated. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. William Banton)

Maintenance crew members prepare an E-3G Sentry (AWACS) for takeoff during exercise Northern Edge June 25. Roughly 6,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units participated in the exercise. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Daniel Van Horn, 966th Airborne Air Control Squadron, Oklahoma City, an airborne surveillance technician on an E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, prepares for a mission above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex during Exercise Northern Edge June 25, 2015. Thousands of service members from all the branch services including active duty, Reserve and National Guard units participated. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. William Banton)

Staff Sgt. Daniel Van Horn, an E-3G Sentry (AWACS) airborne surveillance technician with the 966th Airborne Air Control Squadron, prepares for a mission above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex during exercise Northern Edge June 25. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. William Banton/Released)

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 E-3G Sentry (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's all part of a typical mission for the E-3G crew of the 964th and 966th Airborne Air Control Squadrons at Tinker Air Force Base, during exercise Northern Edge 2015 in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.

"We provide the command and control of the aircraft," said Maj. Dan Sprunger, the 964th AACS mission crew commander. "It's our job to oversee what's going on and, in real time, make changes in the air. 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 squadrons gained not only valuable, high-tempo warfare experience, but also met specific testing goals. The E-3G carries an upgraded computer platform for their weapons and surveillance scopes, known as the Block 40/45. 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 1st Lt. Breann Hermann, a 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 provided feedback about how the Block 40/45 system worked and offered potential areas of improvement.

"The system cuts down on (operator's) steps. The ease of use is drastically higher, and the tracking process goes faster," Major Sprunger said.

By the end of the two-week, biannual Northern Edge exercise, the 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.

The premier joint training exercise in Alaska, Northern Edge 2015 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 in the Gulf of Alaska. Nearly 6,000 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen from active duty, Reserve and National Guard units participated.