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552nd Air Control Wing [552nd ACW]

The 552d Air Control Wing reports to the Twelfth Air Force with headquarters at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. The 552d Air Control Wing is responsible to the commander of Air Combat Command for the operations, maintenance, logistics, training, and combat support of Air Force's operational inventory of 32 E-3 AWACS aircraft in support of combatant commanders. The wing provides combat-ready theater battle management forces at the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It operates and supports these forces worldwide ensuring combat capability for all peacetime and contingency operations.

The 552d Air Control Wing has crews deployed throughout Southwest Asia, Europe and South America in support of on-going Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed contingency operations. Operational E-3 flying squadrons are deployed at Tinker AFB, Okla., and overseas at Kadena AB, Japan, and Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

The 552d Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing was first activated at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif., July 8, 1955. The wing was charged with a worldwide deployment mission. Units of the wing were located in California, Florida, Iceland, Korea and Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian unit's duties ceased in June 1970, ending more than five years of continuous service and control of more than 210,000 aircraft involved in combat operations, almost 3,300 MiG border warnings, and the successful rescue of 80 downed crew members.

On July 1, 1976, the 552d Airborne Warning And Control Wing moved to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., with a new airframe. Its mission was to train crews and to provide maintenance, computer and logistics support for the Air Force's operational inventory of 33 E-3 Sentry aircraft. On October 1, 1991 Headquarters Tactical Air Command redesignated the wing as the 552d Air Control Wing.

The first E-3 arrived at Tinker on March 23, 1977.

In March 1979 two E-3s, aircrews and support personnel from the wing temporarily operating at Kadena Air Base, Japan, were deployed to Saudi Arabia in light of an on-going border dispute between North and South Yemen.

In early 1979 the wing assumed a commitment to support the North American Aerospace Defense Command. As of mid 2001 wing crews still stood ready to fly daily on short notice to the borders of the United States and Canada providing additional radar coverage required in defense of the North American continent.

In October 1979 two E-3s and nearly 240 aircrew and support personnel participated in a short notice deployment to South Korea following the assassination of President Park. Flying more than 370 hours during 54 missions, E-3 crews provided "deep look" surveillance of the Korean peninsula while adjacent to potentially hostile airspace.

From December 1979 through May 1980 two E-3s, crews and support personnel were deployed to the European theater to conduct joint training in Central Europe and the Mediterranean area with elements of the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet and allied forces. This deployment marked the first time the E-3 operated in Egypt.

In September 1980 four E-3s and almost 200 wing members again deployed to Saudi Arabia in an operation called "Elf One," which continued for 8.5 years. They provided "round-the-clock" airborne radar coverage, and enhanced Saudi air defenses during the dispute between Iran and Iraq. In March 1988, wing personnel were authorized wear of the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for continued service in the Persian Gulf arena.

In December 1980 four E-3s, crews and support people deployed to Ramstein Air Base, West Germany, conducting joint training with elements of the NATO air defense network. The deployment coincided with increased international tension over a possible Warsaw Pact invasion of Poland. Two aircraft flew from Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland, where they were operating with the 960th Airborne Warning and Control Squadron. The remaining aircraft and people deployed from Tinker.

In October 1981 the wing returned to Egypt with two E-3s and some 200 operations and support personnel. The deployment followed the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

In December 1981 the Air Force took delivery of its 25th E-3. The delivery brought a new updated version of the Airborne Warning and Control System, called the U.S./NATO standard.

E-3s from the wing supported Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada during November 1983.

In October 1983 the wing was redesignated the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Division. Under a second reorganization in April 1985, the division was once again redesignated a wing, becoming a subordinate unit of the newly activated 28th Air Division.

In 1986 the wing, in accordance with former President Ronald Reagan's National Security Decision Directive, further expanded its counter-narcotic operations. This marked the beginning of the wing's intense anti-drug commitment. Within six months, the wing had assisted in 13 arrests and the seizure of 3,200 pounds of illegal drugs.

In December 1989, the wing took part in operation Just Cause, designed to liberate the people of Panama from the grip of dictator and drug-trafficker Manuel Noreiga.

In January 1990, the wing deployed personnel and several E-3s to NAS Roosevelt Roads, located near San Juan, Puerto Rico. This deployment, known as Agate Path, established a forward operating base for counter-narcotic operations in the Central American region.

In August 1990, following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces, the wing deployed E-3s and personnel to Saudi Arabia and Turkey in support of operations Desert Shield and Proven Force, respectively. Beginning on January 17, 1991, both deployed forces played a prominent role in the successful prosecution of operation Desert Storm.

In March 1991, after the Gulf War, the wing remained in the Persian Gulf region. Wing personnel and aircraft in Saudi Arabia continue in a post-war surveillance role, while wing assets in Turkey continue to provide surveillance support for operation Provide Comfort, the protection of Kurdish refugees.

In October 1991, the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Wing was redesignated the 552d Air Control Wing.

In May 1992, the 28th Air Division was inactivated and the 552d Air Control Wing was reorganized.

In January 1993, a 552d ACW E-3, flying a "Southern Watch" mission over the Persian Gulf region, guided an air strike against Iraqi ground targets in response to Iraqi violations of United Nations resolutions. Four days later, a wing E-3 guided a United States Air Force F-16 in the interception and destruction of an Iraqi MiG-29. This attack sequence followed a violation of the no-fly zone over Northern Iraq by the Iraqi pilot.

In September 1994, the wing flew 23 missions over Haiti, in support of Operation Uphold Democracy from forward operating locations and Tinker AFB. This operation, directed by President Clinton, ousted military leaders to return the freely elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The wing consists of several subordinate units, among which are the 552d Operations Group consists of four flying squadrons as well as an operations support squadron, and a training squadron. The 963d, 964th and 965th Airborne Air Control Squadrons provide worldwide response with the E-3 aircraft. The squadrons, each assigned approximately 390 people, are responsible for providing mission ready crew members to support the E-3's all-altitude "deep look" surveillance, early warning, control and airborne management roles in a variety of missions. The 966th Airborne Air Control Squadron conducts airborne training for E-3 flight and mission crew members. The students' flying training follows weeks of academic study with the 552d Training Squadron. Instructors also develop plans used in the training environment and provide training in the wing's flight and mission simulators.

Supporting the wing at Tinker AFB are elements of the following commands: Electronic Systems Division of the Air Force Materiel Command and the Air Education and Training Command. The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy also maintain liaison offices to interface with wing personnel.

The 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., made significant changes to help improve combat capability following the friendly fire shootdown of two Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters over northern Iraq in April 1994. Tragically, a complex series of errors and communication breakdowns led to Air Force F-15s-supported by an AWACS E-3 Sentry aircraft-destroying the helicopters and killing 26 people. Within a few days, intense media scrutiny shoved the 552nd into a spotlight that some thought placed too much of the blame on a proud, close-knit organization that has received 14 Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.

Numerous reviews and investigations have since delivered positive changes for the 552nd ACW--and the entire AWACS community. With members stretched from Turkey to Panama, the 552nd asked Air Combat Command to take a closer look at global demands put on AWACS aircraft and crews. Many of the crews deployed a staggering 200 days a year, which hindered training effectiveness, crew morale and retention. A need from worldwide theater commanders pushed AWACS people and aircraft to the limit.

Soon after, Secretary of Defense William Perry ordered three mandates: Improve aircrew training; Reduce the TDY rate; and Increase the number of aircrews.

Before becoming mission-qualified, all AWACS members must progress through two phases, followed by continuation training to maintain and increase proficiency. The phases are initial qualification training that focuses on academics, simulation and flights, and mission qualification training held on the ground and in the air. Because of their ever-growing, complex job--providing all-weather surveillance and command, control and communications--ongoing training is paramount to AWACS members. But training takes time, and 552nd aircrews struggled to gain both prior to April 1994.

With the wing's high operations tempo, training became a luxury as real-world problems took a higher priority. AWACS crews flew daily missions--some more than 20 hours-in global hot spots to detect, to identify and to track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft. Their most pressing concerns: Saddam Hussein's air force and the illegal drug flow from South America. Throw in numerous flare-ups around the world, and a heavily tasked 552nd ACW became dangerously overburdened.

A Pentagon Tiger Team that reviewed the 552nd ACW's training program immediately after the shootdown. The team, along with an ACC team, agreed there needed to be more emphasis on mission qualification training or MQT. The former MQT program was basically self-study, self-paced and geared to individualized training. The new program relies heavily on a team concept, since it's vital to train AWACS aircrews as one entity because of their need to communicate. Communication must flow "unrestricted" throughout the 24-plus crew, representing at least 13 career fields. One of the main culprits in the shootdown was a lack of communication between the various players on the aircraft. That's why the new focus keys on keeping everybody in the loop on what's happening. Few decisions are made without multiple inputs from others. People also didn't understand the roles of the aircraft's 13 other positions. Crew integration is needed to make a more cohesive team. We now incorporate more of that type of information in the classroom.

Another change moved MQT from the operational squadrons to a wing schoolhouse operated by the training squadron, providing more continuity. The students now have the same instructors and the same type of training. This improves the attention given students, which was a challenge in squadrons with heavy TDY commitments. The 552nd ACW also emphasizes stronger continuation training to hone warfighting skills. Because of the previous heavy demand placed on them, many aircrews had scant opportunities to practice. The 552nd ACW had sent people overseas to maintain their proficiency for lack of stateside training sorties.

With Perry's mandates, the wing was empowered to schedule more stateside training flights that better prepare aircrews for operational missions. To help out, the 552nd ACW received $16 million from the Department of Defense. DoD funds were divided into five major areas: $6.36 million to initial qualification training; $4.1 million to mission qualification training; $3.4 million to Air Education and Training Command; $1.8 million to continuation training; and $340,000 to Pacific Air Forces, which has two AWACS squadrons.

The AETC funds helped to provide better-trained students entering IQT. Better-trained students then entered an improved MQT, and better-trained members joined the operational squadrons. Much of the money bought computer-based training and equipment that emulates E-3 systems, allowing students more opportunities to practice their unique and demanding job.

Many members took news of Perry's mandates and a promise of fewer TDYs with skepticism. This time, however, it became reality. Since the shootdown, the average crew TDY rate fell from 160 days to 120. And the rate for critically undermanned positions -- weapons director, airborne surveillance officer and senior director -- hovers near the 120 mark after ballooning to 200 for several years. Climbing Air Force operations tempo contributed to the 552nd's high TDY rate, but AWACS isn't alone.

Prior to the shootdown, the 552nd ACW had 28 aircrews, but is now fully manned with 40. To reach that mandate, the schoolhouse went through a five-month around-the-clock surge. The school specifically concentrated on graduating weapons directors and air surveillance technicians. Normally, 96 WDs and 108 ASTs are trained annually-during the five-month surge, it reached 70 each. With extra manning, wing people were once again attending professional military education and college courses to further their careers.

Reaching the manning mandate was important, but training and safety wasn't shortchanged in the process. Every AWACS member was proficient and rated qualified before assignment to operational squadrons. Besides reaching the three major mandates, the wing also started several other initiatives. The 552nd tested a new Air Combat Command concept whereas all maintenance falls under one squadron to increase aircraft availability. The 513th Air Control Group, an associate Reserve unit, was activated to fly alongside active-duty aircrews. Part of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, the 513th ACG will provide six crews to operate 552nd ACW aircraft. Mission simulators have new keyboards and alarm control panels. The change simplifies operations and provides higher maintenance reliability.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:14:18 ZULU