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From flip phone to smart phone: AWACS gets an upgrade

By 1st Lt. Ashlyn K. Paulson

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The first fully qualified crew under the new crew design for the E-3 G Airborne Warning and Control System reached their deployment location in September 2020.

The new crew design, introduced in 2016, was inspired by the Block 40/45 Modernization Program update to the E-3 AWACS weapons system. As the Block 40/45 configuration enhances interoperability and mission system reliability, it was a natural point to capitalize on the technological improvements and revamp the crew design.

In the past, aircrew members were organized into several different job specializations on the jet. An individual would arrive at Tinker Air Force Base, learn how to operate an extremely dated computer for a specific crew position and once experienced in that position be retrained into a different crew position. This retraining required them to learn a new set of computer operations. 

With improved technology on the aircraft, the new crew construct trains operators for all specialties, allowing one to become an expert in all areas from the beginning, drastically improving mission flexibility and team cohesiveness.

With the stovepipe specialties removed, all mission crew members can fill multiple positions on the E-3G, and the crew makeup can be flexibly tailored to meet mission requirements. If one Air Battle Manager falls ill, another Air Battle Manager scheduled for that mission can fill in.  Before this change, the mission was in danger if one crewmember of that specialty fell ill.

The new construct also enhances team cohesion. In the past, individuals were often divided by specialty. When mission planning or executing, there was a limited amount of individuals who could answer questions. Now, all individuals are able to complete similar tasks, and combine more mind-power to any problem that may arise.

The transition did not come without any roadblocks for the recently deployed squadron. In order for the squadron to be combat-capable, every member needed to complete the necessary academics, simulated flights, as well as six flights with the new crew concept.

While this ramp-up was taking place, COVID-19 restrictions caused several challenges.  Members had to find a way to complete the necessary training requirements while social distancing, managing primary care-giver roles and complete all pre-deployment requirements.

 As the AWACS received the technological advancements of the Block 40/45, the design was complimented with flexible mission crew options for Commanders, improving the efficiency of Battle Management Command and Control capabilities for the enduring future.