Records Are Meant to Be Broken: AWACS Crews Fly Record Sorties

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Patrick OReilly, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing

On Aug. 3, 2020, the 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron flew their 34th consecutive combat mission, breaking their previous record for sequential flights.

The 968 EAACS’s aircraft, the E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System, is the newest model of the E-3 Sentry that includes a modernized computer system and software that vastly enhances mission capability. Although the aircraft has new equipment, the E-3G is no stranger to deployed operations. It continues a tradition of AWACS standing guard since 1977, providing accurate and real-time early warning and battlespace awareness to the Combined Air Operations Center. No other mission system seamlessly blends the operational battle plan with tactical effects.

The unit was tasked last month to increase its operations tempo to deliver significantly increased airborne command and control in theater, above their historic operational pace.

“The squadron embraced the challenge to provide critical combat air power across three areas of responsibility for coalition forces,” said Lt. Col. Terry “Val” Hjerpe, 968 EAACS commander. “We exceeded all expectations.”

Hjerpe praised 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Sentry Aircraft Maintenance Unit for generating 34 consecutive daily sorties, and congratulated his aircrews for their “ … disciplined combat focus in executing this record streak of sustained airborne battle management.”

“What we are doing is unprecedented,” said Lt. Col. Michael Tonks, 968 EAACS director of operations. “By the time we were 21 missions into our streak, our E-3 crews had already flown over 250 hours, and at the end of 30 days had flown over 340 hours supporting combat operations. To our knowledge this has not been accomplished before with similar resources.”

During this timeframe, AWACS crews provided flexible air power to on-going combat operations, safeguarding the Central Command AOR with battle management, situational awareness, identification of friendly, unknown, neutral, and enemy activity, target detection and tracking, and management of airborne aerial refueling.

Many hands contributed for a team effort. Capt Andre Hebert, 968 EAACS’s chief of mission planning highlights this fact.

“No single deployed unit is generating combat airpower alone,” he said. “It takes the maintenance, logistics, fuels, medical, and mission support teammates to make this happen.”

The maintenance crews knew the importance of the mission and streak as well.

“No matter how the jet landed everyone came together and put forth their efforts to ensure that the aircrafts were fixed efficiently and went back up as quickly as they could,” said Staff Sgt. Sean O’Malley, 380 AMXS Sentry AMU.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this E-3 team for the incredible 34 consecutive mission streak” said Maj. Todd Murray, 380 AMXS commander. “When each aircraft landed broken, our very proficient maintenance team was able to fix each aircraft well beyond the AFCENT E-3 standard. Additionally, the AWACS maintainers and operators have a very strong partnership, which played a huge role.”