Tinker aircrews take part in Red Flag exercise

  • Published
  • By Kimberly Woodruff
  • Staff Writer
To be the best at anything, you have to practice, practice and practice.

Members of Tinker Air Force Base's 552nd Air Control Wing proved their mettle during an intense simulated combat training exercise that took place the first week in August.
The 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron "Vikings," 552nd Air Control Network Squadron and 552nd Maintenance Group returned recently from Nellis AFB, Nev., where the Airborne Warning and Control Systems Block 40/45, the aircraft's newest computer system upgrade, was employed for the first time in a simulated combat environment. 

Two crews and two 40/45 E-3s were deployed in support of Red Flag 15-3 where combat aircrews and their Air Control Network Squadron teammates work together training to fight and employ the new/enhanced command and control/battle management system in a war-like setting.

In running an intense air and ground exercise, the crews honed their ability to train, integrate, perfect their training/tactics/procedures and debrief their lessons learned in a highly complex exercise environment.

The Red Flag exercise coincided with the 25-year anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and is a reminder that AWACS has exercised a near continuous presence in the Southwest Asia theatre dating back to 1980 and the ELF-ONE operations. 

"Our folks are so busy, deploying a lot and it's a testament to the importance of the E-3 platform and the skills our operators, maintenance and Air Control Group Airmen bring to the fight," said Lt. Col. Kristen Thompson, 960th AACS commander. "The Airmen at the 552nd Air Control Wing are the premier command and control/battle managers in the world and we continue to build upon our vast experience -- certainly from 30 years in theater!  We are constantly reminded of this when we send our 552nd Airmen to exercises like Red Flag, where we see there is no substitute for AWACS and the capabilities we deliver at the tactical and operational levels of war."

Lt. Col. Andrew West, detachment commander for the Vikings, said the crews were challenged right from the start.

"Everyone had to work hard to make this a successful exercise," Colonel West said. "The crews learned a lot about USAF deployment and integration of other assets."

Colonel Thompson said that if you can survive the first 10 days in combat, you'll be OK, so this exercise simulates those first 10 days.

"Training exercises like Red Flag ensure we as a wing are combat ready," she said. "As the only USAF platform to have this much near-consecutive time in theater, it's obvious to see what 'America's Wing' delivers for our nation."

Colonel Thompson said after successful exercises like Red Flag, the 552nd ACW will continue to "build upon our experience to deliver that world-class C2 both at home and in combat." 

She added that the crews sharpened their abilities in employing the new mission computing system in a simulated combat environment. Working extensively with the Air Control Network Squadron counterparts, they ensured the deployable mission planning system is capable of improving mission planning and post mission planning capabilities.

All in all, 113 Tinker personnel were deployed to Red Flag and together they flew 71.9 hours across 11 exercise sorties and five flight deck training sorties.  More than 1,000 aircraft were controlled across the 11 exercise sortie periods.

"If you can mission plan and script it, you can roll with the punches," said Colonel West. "It is pretty intense."

"The American flag patch our Airmen wear on their flight suit when they deploy or see on the tail flash of our aircraft constantly remind us of the importance of our platform, our skills and our teamwork that make us the best of the best ... consistently ready to deliver command and control battle management on a global scale."

Just one week ago, the mighty Phoenix of the 964th AACS returned from Red Flag where they also performed brilliantly, according to their commander, Lt. Col. Marc Langohr. Building upon the success from the earlier Red Flag, they controlled more than 500 aircraft across 15 sorties and 61.5 hours.

"Both the Vikings and the Phoenix did a great job integrating with their Maintenance Group and Air Control Group counterparts to achieve the highest levels of success seen in recent memory," Colonel Thompson said.