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Radio team connects air to ground

by Capt. Catie Hague
455th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs

5/3/2005 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN)  -- A team of five maintainers hitchhike around country making sure the Joint Radio Relay communications system keeps working.

The team, made up of three Airmen and two contractors, maintain five JR2 systems located at remote sites throughout Afghanistan. The system has similar capabilities to the E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system.

“We’ve traveled by convoy and flown on virtually every airframe in theatre,” said Eric Anderson, a 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Squadron contractor.

Since JR2 systems control about 80 percent of the aircraft flying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, it’s critical to keep these systems fully operational, he said.

“JR2 is used extensively for command and control in this (area of responsibility),” said Tech. Sgt. Hank O’Neill, the 455th EMSS JR2 section chief. “It has replaced the AWACS, allowing this airborne platform to redeploy and saving an estimated $240,000 a day.”

Sergeant O’Neill said their goal is to make sure remote systems are up and running 100 percent of the time. The team works with the JR2 control site at Kandahar, Afghanistan, which dispatches them at a moment’s notice to make repairs at remote locations.

The sites range from an hour to 10 days away.

“The five remote JR2 platforms maintained by our team are contained within 20- by 10- by 15-foot vans, which can be set up in about four hours and operate from anywhere,” Mr. Anderson said. “They expand command and control capability hundreds of miles.”

Whether facilitating commercial airline transitions or vectoring in close air support for coalition forces on the ground, JR2 is a one-of-a-kind system designed to connect air and ground assets, Sergeant O’Neill said.

In a recent rescue and recovery operation near Ghazni, Afghanistan, these remote JR2 systems proved their worth, officials said.

“A dust storm grounded four helicopters in mid-April, after one crashed, killing 18 people,” Mr. Anderson said. “We were able to use our remote JR2s to relay critical information about the missing aircraft and their manifests to A-10s performing airborne support for rescue and recovery efforts. Without this system, we may never have known these aircraft went down until they failed to arrive at their destination.”

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