116th Air Control Wing [116th ACW]
The Joint STARS E-8C aircraft are based at Robins Air Force Base, GA and assigned to the 93d Air Control Wing. On 1 October 2002, the Joint STARS aircraft transfered to the 116th Air Control Wing composed of members of the Georgia Air National Guard and the active duty Air Force - the first "blended wing" in the U.S. Air Force. The $20 million hangars built for old B-1B bombers can be used to house its new J-STARS planes.
The 116th Bomb Wing flew the supersonic B-1 bomber, a mission that it had performed since 1995 when the unit moved from Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Atlanta to Robins AFB in Warner Robins. In October 2002, the 1,100 member unit was renamed the 116th Air Control Wing, flying the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. It is estimated to be the largest wing in the Air National Guard and the only Air Guard Wing flying the sophisticated JSTARS mission.
The 93rd Air Control Wing and 116th Bomb Wing tackled a new Air Force challenge: a "Future Total Force" wing for the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, also known as the Joint STARS. The first of its kind FTF blends active-duty and Air National Guard airmen into one wing.
The FTF challenge was presented in the fall of 2001 when Secretary of the Air Force James Roche sent a letter to Georgia's congressional delegation. The letter said the Air National Guard's 116th Bomb Wing will become the 116th Air Control Wing this year, and this new wing "will include a large active-duty associate presence in order to meet the expected high operations and personnel tempo."
"The FTF concept is a brand-new one for most of us down here in the trenches, but it is actually an idea the Air Force has been studying for some time," said Col. Dave Fadok, 93rd ACW commander. The 93rd and the 116th are committed to working together to overcome any obstacles in their path in order to set, in the words of Roche, "a new and higher standard for a Future Total Force organization."
"I can assure you our ongoing effort with the Guard to build a roadmap is not a 'zero sum' game in which our loss is their gain, or vice versa," said Fadok. "Terms like 'us' and 'them' are no longer appropriate as we evolve into a true Total Force of C2ISR (command, control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) warriors. 'We' must develop a plan with one objective in mind: to increase both the combat effectiveness and organizational efficiency of the Joint STARS weapons system by exploiting the unique strengths of the active duty and Guard."
The unique strengths of the merger are what the FTF will draw upon. "The Guard's combat experience will bring a tremendous boost to our capabilities," said Lt. Col. Steven Drago, the 93rd's FTF transition team chief. "Drawing on Guard members already living here, who know the area, who will eventually know the weapons system and who will remain here, will make contributions for the long term and maintain the continuity. It makes sense."
The first of three phases was in progress in March 2002. Maintenance training was underway and operations training began in April 2002. During the first phase, the 116th underwent the most noticeable changes as flight crewmembers and maintainers were retrained and the bomb wing became an air control wing in October 2002.
Two E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft and several dozen airmen from the 166th ACW began deploying on March 5, 2003 and headed to a forward-operating location to support operations in Southwest Asia.
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