Science and Technology News

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Architects of the AOR’s air picture


By Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The massive golf-ball looking object perched on the tee-like tower at Kandahar Airfield isn’t just a useless landmark; instead the information obtained from it helps provide higher headquarters and tactical commanders pertinent information about Afghanistan’s air space.

The 73rd Expeditionary Air Control Squadron members here perform many functions to disseminate this vital air picture information to the U.S. Air Force and other services and coalition partners even in the most austere conditions.

“Even in the middle of nowhere we can set up our mission and connect communications for the aircraft and battlefield commanders,” said Maj. Richard Grecula, 73 EACS commander. “Having an assortment of Air Force specialties within the squadron keeps the radio, radar, and datalink systems properly maintained.”

Senior Airman Andrew Dahn, 73rd EACS ground radar systems journeyman, performs daily maintenance checks on the squadron’s primary and secondary radar.

“My job is to keep the radar running and well maintained because the data collected from it helps provide the air picture for the entire area of responsibility,” said Dahn.

It isn’t just malfunctioning equipment the squadron worries about, but also weather conditions. The radar’s data can be obscured by dirt, pollution, and even birds.

“We call it anomalous propagation,” said Dahn. “It’s when things in the air can get in the way of a proper track of a correlated target.”

When the environmental conditions are off, or the radar is not working properly, the radar needs to be fixed quickly, but providing an air picture to Afghanistan is still possible.

“We troubleshoot, isolate, fix or replace the nonfunctioning component as fast as we can because, while we don’t lose the air picture completely because of our secondary radar, we want to provide central command with as complete of an air picture as possible,” said Dahn.

The secondary radar tracks aircraft by the transponder signal and identifies it as a friendly aircraft, he said.

“We are similar to air traffic controllers but instead of keeping planes away from each other we bring planes to the fight,” said Grecula.

Besides the radar technicians, another important aspect to providing the information are the interface control technicians who are responsible for restructuring and distributing the datalinks to complete the air mission. Radios, phones, internet and datalinks form the network that relays classified secret information all over.

“We provide the tactical data air picture to all the different players and that allows them to see the aircraft around their nearby air space,” said Senior Airman Jazmine Gordon, 73rd EACS interface control technician. “These entities, like other services or coalition partners, each send radar information to us, and we compile it into a total air picture and send it out to everyone again in a continuous 24-hour loop.”

Like the radar technicians they have a contingency plan for when a link doesn’t work.

“If there are problems with one organization’s link then we reroute them through other channels and fix their thread,” said Gordon. “We call it changing the link architecture.”

Squadron members may provide invaluable information to the rest of the AOR, but they still make time for helping out around the squadron and the rest of Kandahar Airfield.

“We are here to support Kandahar Airfield and the wing missions,” said Technical Sgt. Christopher Hall, 73rd EACS digital systems noncommissioned officer in charge.

The civil engineering element helps with flood mitigation, the security forces element practices force protection drills, and others members have completed the combat life saver course here, said Hall.

Squadron members also try and make life easier for other service members at KAF and elsewhere.

Hall said he and his team worked with Marines here to upload a links server from their Sharepoint site so Marines at another deployed location could access drivers to complete a software install for a defense server.

Squadron members continue going the extra mile and help co-workers back at home station too.

“We sometimes provide light support, research and advice,” said Hall.

All in all, squadron members work closely with each other, other military partners in the AOR, and at home which helps them avoid a fishbowl perspective.

“Working with everyone and being so integrated we really see a larger perspective of how everyone works together,” said Gordon.

Hall said that the squadron members showing such fine team work isn’t surprising because most members seem to be committed to a standard of excellence.

“We aim to make this deployment our finest hour,” said Hall.

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