552nd ACW Airmen display skills at Red Flag

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Members of the 552nd Air Control Wing have been putting their critical combat training skills on display on the ground and in skies over Nevada at Red Flag 21-3.

Crews from the 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron joined the more than 2,000 participants from 17 states representing the Air Force, Navy, Marines, Space Force, Air National Guard and U.S. Air Force Reserves at the annual exercise held from July 19 through Aug. 6.

The 964th AACS operates the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems that provides all weather surveillance, command and control and communications needed by commanders. The aircraft is equipped with a rotating RADAR dome that permits airborne surveillance from above the Earth’s surface with a range of more than 250 miles. The radar combined with an identification friend or foe subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy and friendly aircraft by peering over mountain peaks and into valleys that would normally be blocked from line of sight by ground radars, detecting potential adversary aircraft waiting in ambush. The detailed battlefield information is gathered and sent to major command and control centers to inform operational decision making.

Organizers of Red Flag 21-3 strived to make it the most challenging exercise in recent history. Nearly 100 aircraft took off from Nellis AFB twice a day, allowing crews to train for both day and night combat operations. Airmen fly, fight and win together across major commands and services to maximize training in non-permissive environments.

“The training we all receive is immensely valuable,” said Maj. Michael Williams, the detachment commander for the mission. “Red Flag is a critical learning environment in which the scenario drives how we train against our adversaries.”

Members of the 964th AACS teamed up with the 2nd and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing to provide ground command and control of joint air operations through surveillance, identification, weapons control, theater missile defense, battle management, and theater communications data links.

The command and control teams on the ground receive data gathered by the E-3 aircraft and provide valuable information by helping identify aircraft as friendly, neutral, or hostile, allowing the other participating aircrews of aircraft such as the F-35, F-22, B-52 KC-46 and others make informed tactical decisions. According to Capt. Devin Nelson with the 552nd Operations Support Squadron, the ground C2 team essentially gives aircrews timely information to allow pilots to effectively in all directions.

“This exercise has had some challenges, for sure,” said Nelson, with the 552nd Operations Support Squadron. This was Nelson’s first time serving as the mission commander. “We bring the God’s eye view to the fight. With a solid mission planning, we develop communication strategies to integrate the USAF and USMC capabilities. Ultimately we succeeded in the mission and more importantly, kept it safe.”

Maj. Daniel Behne with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing agreed.

“It was definitely challenging, but as Marine C2 we train to work with the Air Force C2, so we were able to train and work with Airborne assets,” said Behne. “It was great having the opportunity to plan, execute and train with them.”

This iteration didn’t utilize a mobile control and reporting center and instead opted to use the Range Operations Center as their CRC unit to essentially mimic what the mobile unit would do.  

In the air on his first exercise, Senior Airman Luis Mejia Reyes was paired with training instructor Master Sgt. Brian Mitchell to learn radar mission control aboard the E-3. Mitchell said Red Flag is a great opportunity for younger Airmen to enhance and improve their skills. “Anytime we can all come together to train further prepares us to face and defeat the enemy,” he added.

Maintenance personnel were also a big part of the mission. According to Tech. Sgt. Markus Johnson, a maintainer with the 552nd Maintenance Operations Squadron, safety is always the top priority during any mission.

The Red Flag exercise offers maintainers the opportunity to see how an aircraft behaves in a desert environment and provides some training opportunities for the more junior maintainers on the team.

“From a maintenance standpoint, we prepare for a real mission in the desert,” said Johnson. “We have experienced maintainers here along with newer members so we can train. There is a lot of knowledge to be gained.”

The Nevada Test and Training Range, north of Las Vegas, has more than 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land. There are 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.

The 414th Combat Training Squadron conducts Red Flag exercises to provide aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment. 

“Red Flag is a unique opportunity for players from all over the world to come practice fighting and winning wars,” said Tony Dunn, the lead Mission Operations Coordinator with the Nevada Test and Training Range. While the exercise sometimes features allies from other countries, the most recent exercise was only for U.S. forces.

The 552nd Air Control Wing provides combat-ready theater battle management forces and mobile command, control, and communications at the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It deploys, operates and supports these forces worldwide ensuring combat capability for all peacetime and contingency operations.