J-STARS wing gets new commander

An E-8C aircraft, part of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System at 116th Air Control Wing, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., pulls away after refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker with the 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Md., on May 1, 2012. The J-STARS provides ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting.


By WAYNE CRENSHAW | The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph (TNS) | Published: June 23, 2015

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — One of the highest profile units at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., has a new leader.

Col. John J. Cooper took command of the 461st Air Control Wing on Monday in a ceremony before hundreds at the Museum of Aviation.

Together with the 116th Air Control Wing, the unit operates the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. J-STARS has been used in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains in high demand, including participation in the current fight against the Islamic State.

Cooper took command from Col. Henry Cyr, who has held the job the past two years and is retiring.

Cooper’s first words to his new unit were, “You are looking at one happy new commander.”

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he is a 1991 graduate of the Air Force Academy and a pilot. He has flown the RC-135, UV-18B Twin Otter and E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, with 230 hours of combat flying, including in Iraq. His most recent assignment was in South Korea, but before that he commanded the AWACS unit at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Like J-STARS, AWACS is a large plane with a surveillance radar but a different focus.

In an interview prior to the ceremony, Cooper said AWACS primarily searches for airborne targets where J-STARS focuses on ground targets.

“They both have the ability to command and control various operations on the ground and in the air,” Cooper said.

Among his family members in attendance was his son, Sean, who just completed his first year at the Naval Academy.

The ceremony was officiated by Maj. Gen. H.D. Polumbo Jr., commander of Air Command Command’s Ninth Air Force. The Ninth Air Force is the parent unit of the 461st Air Control Wing. Polumbo said Cyr is widely respected in the Air Force.

“He has commanded the wing during the highest (operations) tempo in the history of J-STARS,” Polumbo said. “They have been flat busy.”

Cooper is taking command of the 461st at an important time in the history of the unit. The Air Force is in the early stages of an effort to replace the J-STARS’ well-worn E-8C aircraft, likely with a smaller business-class jet.

©2015 The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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