AWACS CTF leads 2019 Astral Knight exercise

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  • By Jacob McGuire, Staff Writer

Tinker’s E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System Combined Test Force will play a major role in an overseas exercise that promotes readiness for any possible threat.

The Astral Knight joint exercise, which started earlier this month, will involve Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors from the United States, as well as service members from Croatia, Italy and Slovenia.

“We’re excited to be leading this exercise because it’s the first time the CTF has led a deployment to a major overseas exercise.  It’s going to be a win-win situation for everyone involved,” said U.S Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Gregg with Detachment 1 of the 605th Test and Evaluation Squadron.

A combination of flight operations and computer-assisted scenarios will take place throughout the exercise assessing recent modifications to the AWACS Block 40/45 and the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation program.

About 80 people including the entire AWACS CTF, which is comprised of more than 30 people, will be participating in the exercise, Gregg said.  In addition to the 23 personnel in Gregg’s detachment, AWACS CTF consists of 10 others from the 96th Operations Group Detachment 2, led by Lt. Col. Bradley Worden.

Personnel from the 96th Test Wing, 505th Command and Control Wing, 552nd Air Control Wing, 72nd Air Base Wing, 513th Air Control Group and the 3rd Wing will also be participating in the operation.

“We couldn’t execute an exercise deployment of any size without outside help, but executing a large exercise in Europe required significant support from outside agencies” Worden said.  “The support we received from six external Wings and three MAJCOMs is a testament to the mantra “one team, one fight.”

Capt. Mark Shaker, chief flight test engineer for the AWACS CTF, and who will act as the test director for AWACS Block 40/45 during the joint exercise, says the operation will be vital in supporting the warfighter.

“This exercise is operationally representative and dynamic, and is not only going to allow us to get the software to the warfighter about six months faster than we would have, but will also save the program about $500,000,” he said. “If there are any bugs with it, we will be able to find and fix them.”

Regarding DRAGON, the 605th Director of Operations Lt. Col. Tyler Wickham says the operation will serve as a basis for testing the program in the Pacific Ocean in July.

“It will be good experience and make future testing more manageable,” he said. “There are a lot of amazing capabilities with DRAGON that we’re looking forward to test out.”