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963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron [963rd AACS]

The 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron is an operational unit of Air Combat Command's 552nd Air Control Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

The 963rd Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron was activated March 8, 1955, at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif. It was assigned to the 552nd Airborne Early Warning & Control Wing of the Aerospace Defense Command. Its mission was to detect hostile forces and control defensive interceptors beyond the range of ground-based radars. The squadron was equipped with the RC-121 Constellation, a modified C-121 aircraft outfitted with a long range surveillance radar, identification friend or foe equipment and a variety of communications systems. The unit flew strategic air defense, anti-submarine warfare and air weather reconnaissance missions.

During the Southeast Asian conflict, aircrews from the 963rd Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron provided radar service for F-4C Phantom II fighters that scored the first MiG kills over North Vietnam. Under the code name College Eye, these crew members controlled more than 210,000 aircraft operations and assisted in the successful rescue of 80 downed crew members. For these sustained efforts, the unit was awarded the Air Force Outstanding Unit Citation with "V" device and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm.

The organization was inactivated April 30, 1976, at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif. Its retirement lasted only two months.

The organization was activated July 1, 1976, as the 963rd Airborne Warning and Control Squadron, the first operational squadron of the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing. Along with new designation, new parent command, and new home station, the squadron was equipped with new E-3 Sentry aircraft. With this unique system came an expanded mission for the "Blue Knight" crews: to employ the E-3's enhanced capabilities for all-altitude and deep look surveillance, early warning, intercept control, and air battle management in a variety of tactical, strategic and special missions.

In September 1978 the 963rd represented the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing in the first operational deployment of the E-3. Deployed to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, "Blue Knight" crews participated in a multinational air defense exercise over the Republic of Korea called Cope Jade Charlie '78.

In early 1979 the 963rd represented the wing in demonstrations for military and political leaders in such diverse locations as Panama and Norway.

When President Park Chung Hee of the Republic of Korea was assassinated in late October 1979, the 963rd was directed to deploy to Osan Air Base, Korea. Less than six hours after the tasking was received, the first aircraft lifted off the runway, fully loaded with crews and equipment. The crews and E-3s remained in Korea for 60 days and flew 54 missions totaling 372 flying hours. "Blue Knight" crews provided deep look surveillance over the Korean Peninsula and conducted joint training missions to enhance American and Korean air defense capabilities.

In early 1980 tensions increased in the Middle East after the crisis in Iran; the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing was directed to deploy to Egypt, and the "Blue Knight" conducted joint training missions with the Egyptian Air Force.

When unrest flared again in South Korea in May 1980, the 963rd was tasked to return to Asia. Twenty four hours after the deployment order issued, the first crew was on the ground in Okinawa. "Blue Knights" flew missions over Korea for nearly 30 days. While at Kadena the crews assisted the 961st Airborne Warning and Control Squadron in becoming operational two months ahead of schedule.

In the fall of 1980 Iran and Iraq declared war, causing international concern. Crews and aircraft from the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing were deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to augment the Royal Saudi Air Force's radar coverage of Saudi airspace. The 963rd provided crew members and support personnel on 30-day temporary duty assignments to support the effort.

Just a few months later, in December 1980, 963rd crews on temporary duty at Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland, redeployed to Ramstein Air Base, West Germany, in response to heightening tensions in Poland. Linking up with NATO groundbased radar sites, the operation, called Exercise Creek Sentry, monitored East European air activity during the crisis.

Crews from the 963rd deployed to Egypt in October 1981 after the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The unit deployed to Egypt again in November 1981 to take part in the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force exercise Bright Star '82.

The 963rd also supports the 552nd Air Control Wing's commitment to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, providing crews on 24-hour alert in support of that command's tasking. The squadron also rotates crews on temporary duty assignment to the 960th Airborne Warning and Control Squadron, Keflavik Naval Air Station, providing command and control capability with the E-3 to the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Forces. Crews from the 963rd routinely participate in recurring training exercises such as Red Flag and Maple Flag, involving United States and allied forces. These permit Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine aircrews to develop and practice combat tactics. In these exercises "Blue Knights" direct friendly aircraft against simulated foes. They also conduct frequent training missions with ACC ground-based radar personnel in the continental United States and Alaska.

When the United States took action in December 1989 against Panamanian forces, the 963rd was directly involved flying mission sorties out of Tinker AFB, Okla. The sorties for Operation Just Cause provided overall command and control and situational awareness for ground and airborne commanders.

In August 1990, the 963rd was the first squadron deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield to deter Iraqi aggression in the Middle East. Immediately after arrival the 963rd crews began continuous deep look surveillance over Kuwait and Iraq. When hostilities broke out on January 17, 1991, the 963rd transitioned to flying combat support sorties for Operation Desert Storm. At the same time, additional crews began flying sorties out of Incirlik, Turkey for Operation Proven Force. For 43 days the 963rd helped provide 24 hour radar coverage of the entire combat area. Between both Desert Storm and Proven Force the aircrews flew 4000 flying hours during that period.

Following the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm on March 1991, the 963rd transitioned to Operation Southern Watch to enforce United Nations imposed sanctions against Iraq. In March 1991, Operation Provide Comfort began in Incirlik, Turkey. The squadron provided command and control in support of Kurdish Relief Operations and aided in the rescue of avalanche victims on several occasions.

In August 1991, 963rd crews deployed to Howard Air Force Base, Panama to support international efforts to stop the flow of illegal drugs.

On July 1, 1994 the 963rd AWACS underwent an official name change to its present designation as the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron.

The 963rd AACS participated in Operation MAINTAIN DEMOCRACY from Sept. 9, 1994 to Sept. 29, 1994. This operation restored President Aristede as the lawful head of the Haitian government and helped to ensure the return of democracy to the people of Haiti.

As of mid-2001 crewmembers from the unit were tasked with supporting North American Aerospace Defense Command Alert, support national command authority taskings on a rotating basis in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey and Howard Air Base, Panama and take part in Composite Force exercises throughout the world such as Red/Green Flag.

The E-3 has become an instrument of national foreign policy because of its ability to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice. The mission of the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron is to provide responsive employment of E-3 Airborne Warning and Control aircraft for surveillance, warning and control in a variety of tactical, strategic and special mission applications.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:16:00 ZULU