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AWACS is commander's eye in the sky

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Sept. 18, 2001) -- From the desert floor, more than 25,000 feet below, it's merely a speck in the sky.

But the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft is actually a flying command center that provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications functions to ground based coalition commanders. It is a modified Boeing 707/320 airframe retrofitted with a 30-foot radar dome and a multi-million dollar complement of radar and computing equipment.

For the 960th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron, a new squadron based at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Operation Northern Watch is their first deployment.

Their mission: provide real-time information to the ONW command center about all aircraft flying in and around Northern Iraq. They come dangerously close to Iraq when performing their mission.

"Our ultimate goal in this theater is to enforce the northern no-fly-zone and United Nations Security Council resolutions. Our focus is to concentrate on Iraq and ensure they don't fly in the no-fly-zone," said Maj. David Goosman, an electronic combat officer with the 960th. "We are providing surveillance of the area. We scope it out."

"I use electronic support measures to detect off-board emissions of aircraft and ground emitters. I provide imminent threat warning to aircraft in the theater," said Goosman.

On his large computer screen, Goosman monitors both air and ground radar emissions. If somebody turns on their radar, from either a hostile aircraft or from a ground based radar station, it shows up as lines on a map on his screen. Such radars can be used to target coalition aircraft with surface-to-air missiles.

"The Security Council resolutions indicate that the Iraqis are not allowed to use any of their integrated air defense assets north of the 36th parallel," explained Goosman. "If they do, I will detect that on my scope."

"I can detect if they have made an early warning radar or a target acquisition radar active," said Goosman. "The fact is, if they have their radar on, they intend to shoot us; that is a hostile intent."

Much equipment aboard the aircraft is used to identify what shows up as electronic blips representing real aircraft in the ONW area of responsibility. The blips can be identified as coalition aircraft, hostile aircraft, or even commercial aircraft.

With this knowledge, the AWACS crew assists ground commanders in controlling the aircraft in their airspace like pieces on a three dimensional chess board.

"We basically are looking at enemy aircraft to see if there is any suspicious activity," explained Capt. David Kirkendall, a weapons control officer. "Our presence here provides the big look. We will detect early on if anybody is violating the no-fly-zone, and we provide that to the fighters that are in the air and on the ground so they can react appropriately. We really have the god's-eye view here."