Long-standing ties help wings optimize mission integration, interoperability

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  • By 55th Wing Public Affairs

As a Lead Wing, the Fightin’ Fifty-Fifth continues to look for ways to further develop its mission integration capabilities by leveraging long-standing ties with other Air Force units as well as with its coalition partners.

One of those historically strong relationships is with the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

The 552nd ACW provides all operations, maintenance, logistics, training and combat support for the E-3 AWACS.

As two wings that are both very large in size, have high ops tempo, fly similar airframes, and share a global footprint, the 55th Wing and 552nd ACW have a lot in common.

“Essentially, our two wings have operated together quite a bit over time, going back to when the ‘iron triad’ mantra was being built in the early 2000s,” said Col. Keven Coyle, 552nd ACW commander, who was at Offutt Air Force Base recently to serve as the Non-Kinetic Operations Coordination Course air component command and senior mentor.

The iron triad included all the Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. It was an overall shift within the service that sought to align more closely all those unique and specialized capabilities.

“What the ‘iron triad’ meant was together we are faster and more lethal than we ever are by ourselves,” Coyle said. “The 135s and all of its variants have niche capabilities that are extremely important and needed. When you combine those with other platforms that have augmenting niche capabilities, we increase speed to target and increase speed and accuracy of information.”

As the Air Force looks to transition the way it generates air power during air operations in contested environments, having that continuity between units will be crucial.

“We are looking at every available means to prepare our wing to lead the future fight,” said Col. Kristen Thompson, 55th Wing commander. “Therefore, it’s important for us to partner with our smart teammates at the 552nd ACW to ensure we build integration between our two warfighting wings.”

Thompson started her Air Force career as an E-3 pilot. Both her and Coyle are former 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron commanders, and that familiarity only helps to further nurture that partnership.

“We’ve always had a lot of cross flow over the years,” Coyle said. “The 55th Wing’s electronic warfare officers come down to Tinker, our navigators go up to Offutt, and we tend to share pilot talent a lot.”

The two units recently teamed up to support Exercise Resolute Hunter, a multi-national and joint service exercise at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

“The only place we normally get to work together often is at Red Flag, so bringing us all together at Resolute Hunter was great,” Coyle said.

In addition to the standard exercise which serves to improve battle management, C2 and ISR integration and readiness across the Department of Defense and with our coalition partners, the 55th Wing also used Resolute Hunter to test its Lead Wing capabilities.

The Warhawks used Fallon as their Main Operating Base with Forward Operating Stations at Offutt and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.

“It was the first time for a lot of our team to go out into an austere environment and execute C2,” Thompson said. “It was a great experience, and we’ll continue to take those opportunities to learn so that we’re ready to execute when called upon.”

Coyle said as the Lead Wing concept grows, it’s good that units like the 55th Wing have the opportunity to lead C2 for forces like the 552 ACW given their overall mission set.

“A C2 ISR Lead Wing is probably more aligned with us given the constraints and issues we tend to have with heavy aircraft like ours,” he said.

As the 55th Wing undergoes changes as a Lead Wing, the 552 ACW is also preparing for some changes of its own as it will transition from the E-3 to the E-7 over the next few years.

“It’s very exciting to be part of that and leading that change for our platforms,” Coyle said. “Our E-3s have a lot of great capabilities, but the E-7 will bring even more.”

However, one thing that won’t be changing is the two wings enduring relationship.

“Our partnership with the 55th Wing as we transition to the E-7 is going to get even stronger,” Coyle said. “We’ll see even more connective tissue between our two wings over time.”

“We’re very grateful for the ties we have to the 552nd ACW, and we look forward to building upon that in the future,” Thompson said.