Tinker's 513th provides AWACS support for major Pacific exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Caleb Wanzer
  • 513th Air Control Group Public Affairs
More than 60 reservists from the 513th Air Control Group and the 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron returned home last week after a nearly two-week mission to support the Rim of the Pacific 2014 exercise at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The 970th flew the only E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft in the exercise, according to Lt. Col. Brent Vander Pol, the 970th commander and the detachment commander for the trip.

"What we were able to accomplish was huge," Vander Pol said. "We were able to get our secure link up and running, providing all of the other allied assets with everything we could see. For us to get and stay connected to the Navy, that's a huge win for us."

Navy communications Sailors flew on the E-3's first mission and worked directly with aircrew members to set up Link 16 capability.

"The Link 16 connectivity provides all the ships, aircraft and other coalition units the ability to exchange tactical data that enhances their situational awareness," said Navy Lt. David Hogg, a joint interface control officer with the Navy's Third Fleet, who flew on board the AWACS.

The link also allows the air operations center to see everything the AWACS radar detects in real time, he said. This allows U.S. and allied forces to share the same information securely.

Vander Pol said that the staff members of the air operations center were surprised by the amount of data that the E-3 provides.

"There was a huge gasp on the floor of the center when this massive amount of data they hadn't been seeing appeared on the displays," he said. "Everyone has to play his or her role in the exercise, and it was really good to see what we could provide."

Even though the E-3 Sentry wasn't the only AWACS to participate in RIMPAC, it provided the largest radar picture, Vander Pol said.

The Navy's E-2 Hawkeye, which provides a similar AWACS capability, also flew missions in RIMPAC. The E-2 is capable of launching from an aircraft carrier but has a smaller range than the E-3 Sentry. The E-3 is the largest AWACS in the U.S. military inventory.

In total, Airmen from the 970th flew five missions, totaling more than 33 hours in the air, where they controlled more than 50 fighter and refueling aircraft.

According to Lt. Col. Wayne Polinksi, the chief air battle manager for the 970th, RIMPAC involved many large-force exercises where U.S. and allied fighter aircraft split into teams and practiced combat maneuvers.

The Navy also contributed to the training, adding high-priority targets in the form of ships that needed to be destroyed in a short amount of time. This required the 970th air battle managers to work quickly with the air operations center and fighter aircraft.

"It was a pretty lean mission," Polinksi said.

The 513th Airmen weren't the only reservists to play a part in RIMPAC 2014. Four KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft and about 65 Airmen from the 507th Air Refueling Wing also at Tinker provided a vital capability to the exercise.

The 507th, along with six other refueling units from the U.S. and Canada, offloaded fuel to aircraft during the exercise, extending flight times for fighters and allowing for better training.

"We were able to work with the reservists from the 507th and had a lot of mutual support," Vander Pol said. "At the end of the day, it was just a bunch of guys from Oklahoma helping each other out."

For the 513th, the mission to RIMPAC was much more than just a routine training opportunity.

"Everyone in the unit realized that this trip was a chance for us to shine and to tell the story of the 513th," Vander Pol said. "We certainly got the attention of our joint and allied partners with what we were doing."

Twenty-two nations, more than 50 ships and submarines, about 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in exercise RIMPAC in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971.