NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, NEV. --
When putting a puzzle together it helps to have an image of the picture the puzzle is trying to resemble. The E-3 Sentry, an airborne early-warning and control aircraft, helps other pieces of the ATO puzzle fit into place enhancing the air picture throughout entire missions at Red Flag 16-4.
“The E-3 is a command and control platform with surveillance and battle management missions,” said Lt. Col. Mark Youkey, 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron detachment commander. “We are employing as the C2 package commander and our job is to survey the battle space and manage the air battle to make sure the hostile targets get targeted and all the bombs get dropped on the right places.”
The Sentry plays a vital part in the roles performed by friendly forces, suppressing enemy air defenses on the ground, air-to-air fights, and strikers dropping bombs on targets, by acting as the eyes and ears for the battle space.
“Inside the E-3 radar technicians play a primary role in supporting internal communication to the crew,” said Tech. Sgt. Jose Zayas-Zambrana, 965th AACS acting first sergeant. “Our technicians monitor frequencies supporting our pilots with provide information on anything within the radars capability. We are always ready to tackle any type of issues that happen while we are in the air and so far the radar has worked been excellent with no issues.”
Once the Sentry arrives in the air space, they prepare the battle space. In preparation Airmen on board the Sentry locate surface-to-air missile systems and air threats to get an idea of what the enemy is doing.
“In the air-to-air realm the E-3 provides a radar picture to our fighters via link, and also by voice,” said Youkey. “We guide the pilots and act as their third wingman providing the support needed to make sure they destroy all the enemy aircraft.”
During the offensive-counter-air, keeping the pieces of the puzzle in sync with each other is an important job. The Sentry is able to communicate with friendly forces to coordinate roles between air-to-air and SEAD forces.
“When working with the SEAD aircraft we use our passive sensors to help find all the SAMs, and all the ground threats to make sure we target the appropriate enemies and ignore the non-factor threats,” said Youkey. “We will also use other sensors to find the unengaged air threats and ensure we either steer SEAD units clear of them or engage them depending on the mission.”
The role a Sentry plays increases the chance for strikers, the aircraft drop bombs on targets, to complete an ATO and reduces the chance of losing a vital member from the mission.
“As the strikers and all the other assets get airborne we are able to relay the integrated picture of the battle space so the first wave of friendly fighters gain a much higher situational awareness and chance of survival from first contact with the enemy,” said Youkey. “When the vulnerability window happens we will control the strikers and keep the friendly forces informed of the situation to make sure they know what is going on as we adjust plans to maximize our lethality and minimize any loses.”
At Red Flag scenarios are built to force players to practice things such as retrograding away from enemy forces or falling back if enemies break through defenses. The Sentry also practices with defensive-counter-air units whose sole responsibility is to protect ground forces and air assets such as the Sentry.
“We have trained a lot for scenarios we don’t want to happen but have seen in various countries around the world,” said Youkey. “When the enemy is trying to come after us we will have the DCA engage the enemy and remove them as a threat. If for whatever reason that does not work we will execute a retrograde but hopefully it never gets to that point.”
Once the mission is complete the Sentry will return home continually monitoring systems to make sure all the enemy forces are suppressed enough and not following from behind.
Youkey who was attending his 20th Red Flag said, “I expected to take our crews from home station and make them into more effective and more lethal airmen for the combatant commanders. The most important thing we brought to the fight is our unsurpassed capability of C2 battle management and having the situational awareness to make decisions to optimize our forces’ capabilities.”