Reserve AWACers lead the way to improve E-3 operations
By Lt. Col. Rich Curry , 507th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published January 27, 2010
TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma -- Since their unit's activation in 1996, Air Force Reservists from the 513th Air Control Group and 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron have continued to prove themselves instrumental to Air Force flying operations.
In addition to being twice recalled to active service, the group has flown one 8-hour sortie a month supporting future software testing for the E-3 and networking software for a multitude of other aircraft weapons systems.
According to Lt. Col. Curtis Andersen, 970th AACS, "Since the fall of 2006, we have been flying these dedicated sorties monthly. That's roughly 6% of our sorties, and 15% of our total annual flying hours."
That flight time has proven invaluable to helping improve the Air Force E-3's operational software and ability to interface with others.
"Prior to our Group's involvement, the software testing received as little as two flights before its actual release. The active duty OPSTEMPO only permitted limited attempts at interoperability testing prior to release," Lt. Col. Andersen said. "Now the testing process averages 10 flights prior to release, with a stronger focus on interoperability. While this is not a typical role for an Associate unit, our experience levels and continuity allow us to accomplish these tests while simultaneously conducting our training requirements."
The reservists were not only able to maintain the testing pace during recent aerospace expeditionary force deployment commitments, they excelled by also producing difference training slides, aircrew aids, and recommended CONOPS (concept of operations) for the new software.
"We've presented difference training to the active duty 552 Air Control Wing crews and their Individual Qualification Training contractor instructors for the last three years," Andersen said.
The Reservists have travelled to Kadena AB, Japan and Alaska to provide consistent difference training for the 961st and 962nd (PACAF assigned units). Prior to their involvement, these PACAF units only received slides.
The Reservists have also presented the new software capabilities at the ACC Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) for the last four years, educating the experts in the C2 community on the newest AWACS features.
Some of the Reservist's big successes include, in 2007, identifying a fatal error in a $23.1M contractor-supplied software which allowed a fix prior to fielding. That error was not found in the software during the vendor's acceptance testing. The 970th AACS personnel have also submitted software changes ranked in the top 10 improvements over each of the last 6 years.
"Our familiarity with the software has allowed us to correct and certify the Mission Training Center (MTC) emulation of AWACS software, allowing all ACC and PACAF E-3s to train to the new features and CONOPS," the lieutenant colonel said.
The Reservists have used these test flights to support other US and Allied weapons systems' requests for testing with AWACS. As a result, they were the first AWACS unit to work Link 16 (datalink) with the F-22A, and the newest software versions in the EA-6B, EA-18G, F-18E/F, F-16CM and F-16C+, F-15E, ROBE tankers, JSTARS and the RAAF 737 AEW&C, which has a role very similar to the US AWACS. They were also the first AWACS unit to work with the MV-22 Osprey.
"This process has yielded tremendous results in documenting AWACS capabilities and interoperability" said Andersen. "It's incredibly rewarding to be a part of improving your weapon system."
"The work of our reservists have helped hone the E-3 wartime interfacing capabilities to razor sharpness and continue to provide agile combat support to the Air Force," said Lt. Col Stephen L. Seaman, Deputy Commander for the 513th Air Control Group.