Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Airmen in sky give warriors on ground situational awareness

by Senior Airman Clinton Atkins, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1st Lt. Seth Simpson and Staff Sgt. Jessica Earls perform preflight procedures in the cockpit of the E-8C Joint STARS Jan. 7 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Lieutenant Simpson is a co-pilot assigned to the 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron and Sergeant Earl is a flight engineer assigned to the 7th EACCS. They are deployed from Robbins Air Force Base, Ga. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Michael Boquette)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Airmen of the 7th Expeditionary Air Command and Control Squadron from this air base in Southwest Asia provide constant situational ground assessment from the air to coalition forces supporting operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Inside the E-8C Joint STARS, the aircrew give airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance throughout the entire area of responsibility.

"We are there every day for long periods of time. Our presence provides an in-depth understanding of how things are moving on the ground." said Lt. Col. Mack Easter, the 7th EACCS commander.

By using the E-8C's surveillance capabilities, Airman of the 7th EACCS provide real time situational awareness to a wide gamut of assets across the battlefield. The radar and computer subsystems on the E-8C can gather and display detailed battlefield information on ground forces.

"We work with the Army from the corps level all the way down to the company level, integrating the ground movement picture from the joint terminal attack controller to the brigade tactical operations center," said Colonel Easter, who is deployed from Robins Air Force Base, Ga. "We also work to integrate (MQ-1) Predators, rotary wing and fast, fixed-wing aircraft all across the battlespace from one end of Iraq to the other. Additionally, our datalink capability allows us to communicate our radar picture to multiple brigades simultaneously."

Not only can the crews share information digitally across the battlefield, but also the E-8 crew can also talk to just about anyone in the world with its various radio and communication suites, he said.

During major force-on-force engagements, E-8C members support the fight by tracking columns of movement. As the fight in Iraq and Afghanistan has changed, so has the E-8C role in the mission.

In the current environment, crews are often looking for a single ground mover in an area of interest.

"When an attack happens on the battlefield, we can backtrack using the information we collected to identify the origin of the attackers," said Lt. Col. Jerry Cole, the 7th EACCS director of operations. "Lately, that has been one of our most used capabilities."

Staff Sgt. Karis Baker, an airborne operations technician assigned to the 7th EACCS, looks for, finds and tracks the ground movers.

"(The JSTARS mission) also includes significant post-mission analysis by many organizations," said Sergeant Baker, a native of Astoria, Ore.

"We are analyzing the pattern of traffic movement," said Sergeant Baker, deployed from Robins AFB. "Our radar records the whole mission. If something happened an hour ago, we can replay the event to see exactly how it went down."

"We know from the time we get here in theater to the time we leave, we'll be consistently busy," Colonel Cole said. "We are without a doubt one of the biggest providers to this war. It's extremely rewarding to see the impact we have on the guys on the ground."