728th controls F-35s for final mission

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs

The 62-year-old 728th Air Control Squadron Demons completed their final mission Jan. 31, adding the Air Force's newest aircraft, the F-35A Lightning II, to its exponential tally of controlled combat aircraft.

"Talk about going out on top," said Lt. Col. Jon Rhone, the 728th Air Control Squadron commander. "People will always remember our history, but they will also remember the last thing we did as well. This is how you want to complete a legacy."

In early 2012, Air Combat Command was directed to reduce its number of U.S. based Control and Reporting Centers from three to two. The 728th was selected for deactivation because it was not collocated with operational aircraft and live, air-to-air opportunities were limited here, according to a statement released by the Secretary of the Air Force when the closure was announced.

The 728th ACS's mission is to execute the air tasking order given to them by the Combine Forces Air Component Commander, or CFACC. At the basic level, the ACS provides persistent battle management for aircraft packaged to support ground forces as well as enforce air dominance. The squadron uses 25 different Air Force Specialty Codes and is capable of self-sustained operations at either a main operating base or in austere conditions.

The communications and maintenance personnel ensure the equipment is optimized for controllers to pass vital information to and from ground units, component commanders, such as the CFACC in the Air and Space Operations Center and military aircraft to ensure the airpower mission is successful.

The 728th operators transfer large amounts of data to and from aircraft, via voice or data communications, including instant messages.

"Acting as a communication conduit, we take the combatant commanders' vision and intent and translate it into the tactical language for the end users in the air," said Rhone.

For their final mission, they provided communications and data to a four-ship of F-35s from the 33rd Fighter Wing, the wing the 728th was assigned to from 1992 to 2008. To honor and say goodbye to their former squadron, the 33rd FW's commander and 58th Fighter Squadron leadership flew the mission.

The sortie was a tactical intercept mission against two F-16s over the Gulf of Mexico. With information and direction provided by 728th weapons directors, the joint strike fighters tracked their targets, engaged and destroyed them within the exercise. This scenario was repeated six times, meeting various aircraft and controller mission objectives.

Typically, the 728th operators control both of the aircraft players in the scenario. To make it a special last mission, the 552nd Air Control Wing, the host wing for all CRCs at Tinker AFB, Okla., sent an E-3 Sentry to control the simulated enemy aircraft.

"This mission was really a capstone of a long heritage of impressive command and control operations," said Col. Alexander Koven, the 552nd Air Control Group commander. "Having the 33rd involved was a reminder of where they've been. For the 552nd, it was a symbolic passing of the torch as we carry on the battle management and command and control capability."

Now that the final mission is complete, the Airmen of the 728th begin deactivation procedures. While the communications and equipment maintainers focus on preparing to transfer equipment to other combat-coded squadrons, the weapons directors and surveillance technicians will be the first of the 298 Airmen to begin exiting to other CRCs under the 552nd.

Many of the Demons fulfilling support functions will either be incorporated into the Eglin and Hurlburt missions or sent to another Air Force base within the U.S.

The official deactivation ceremony is scheduled for May 17. A detachment will remain until the personnel and equipment have been processed out.

Click here to learn more about the history and legacy of the 728th ACS.