Exercise SENTRY REX: More robust than ever

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Ashlyn K. Paulson
  • 552nd Air Control Wing

Joint-service exercise, SENTRY REX 20-3, was back for its third iteration August 23-28, and was more robust than ever.

The exercise, hosted by the 552nd Air Control Wing, specialized on Combat Search and Rescue mission integration.

Units and assets involved in the exercise included E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base, Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System aircraft from Robins AFB, MQ-9 Reapers operated from Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, MC-12s from the 137th Special Operations Wing, CV-22 Osprey and AC-130 Gunships from Cannon AFB, an MC-130H Combat Talon IIs from Hurlburt AFB and KC-135R Stratotankers from the 314th Air Refueling Squadron at Beale AFB. Many of the units executed from their home stations due to COVID-19 restrictions, but met over the skies of Oklahoma.

While these assets were managing the air space, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers of the 137th SOW, Air National Guard, were on the ground searching for injured personnel in a combat replicated environment.

“This exercise created a unique opportunity for Air Force and Army to come together and train for CSAR operations in a contest environment,” said Lt. Col. Brad Dvorak, 552nd Operations Support Squadron commander. “It’s rare for us to able to collaborate with CAF and SOF to train together… and win!”

The JTACs initiated at Tinker AFB, and traveled to Ft. Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, via CV-22. Once reaching the location, the search began for the downed Airmen.

During the search, the JTACS faced radio interference, non-lethal paint rounds and an unknown layout all while communicating with the 552nd Operations Support Squadron, a unit of the 137th SOW, who were providing realistic intelligence scenario injects.

 This was executed during the day and night to recreate any combat scenario from CAF or SOF.

SENTRY REX created a unique opportunity for AWACS to prepare for a Combat Search and Rescue operation. Downrange, the air mission coordinator is responsible for contacting and coordinating with the Joint Personnel Recovery Center. The AWACS then controls the air space, gathers data on support and enemy forces and passes information between the entities.

SENTRY REX replicated these conditions by having battle management command and control, ground to air attack assets, refueling mitigation, and route clearance all while working with unfamiliar units and personnel to ultimately support the final goal of rescuing a downed Airman.

This year’s exercise had several new features including opposition forces and in-person training. In-person training allowed for better interaction between platforms and improved camaraderie among Airmen. Rather than phone conferences, members were able to fully discuss their platform’s capabilities and what they can contribute to the fight, allowing all players to better collaborate and support one mission.

“Despite the COVID environment, we were able to synchronize air players to meet over the skies of Oklahoma and ensure our mission readiness for whenever a call may be received – a true testament to our Airmen making mission opportunities happen,” said Dvorak.   

The exercise also allowed the AWACS and JSTARS, two battle management command and control assets, to interact outside of combat operations. Although the platforms work hand in hand down range, it is rare for both to be used in an exercise situation due to their limited fleet size and mission requirements.