AWACs join Japan-U.S. Keen Sword
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — That signature rotating radar dome is hard to overlook on the E-3 Sentry, an airborne warning and control system aircraft, more commonly known as AWACS.
The modified Boeing 707 is a flying fortress of computer subsystems and console operators who conduct navigation, surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and communications.
An AWACS crew from the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, is flying out of Yokota during the massive Keen Sword exercise under way at installations throughout Japan and Okinawa.
The Japan Self-Defense Force and all four branches of the U.S. military are taking part in the 12-day drill, scheduled to end Friday.
The AWACS is providing surveillance, command and control for F-16s from Misawa Air Base, KC-135 tankers and other “friendly” aircraft over 10 planned flying days, said Maj. Steve Carson, the 961st squadron operations officer.
The E-3 Sentry’s radar and computers can gather and distribute detailed battlefield information, which is collected as events unfold.
“It’s a pretty impressive mix of older technologies with some cutting-edge technology,” Carson said.
During Keen Sword, the Kadena crew also is linking up with a Japan AWACS, housed on a newer Boeing 767 airframe. The countries will swap two air weapons officers for each mission of the exercise.
“We’re showing a key ally how we integrate our team, and letting them know what we see,” said Capt. Daniel Kim, an air weapons officer for the 961st. “This shows we can converse with key words. There’s common operational vocabulary building with each flight.”
Capt. Sammi Mizell, an AWACS navigator, says improving shared operational skills with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force would prove critical if war broke out in the region.
“It’s a conflict we’re both involved in,” Mizell said.
Capt. Jeff Watts, the Kadena squadron’s project officer and lead planner for Keen Sword, said the AWACS would feed real-time information to “the four-star running the war on the ground,” he said.
“We practice like we fight,” Watts added. “If war breaks out tomorrow, we’d know how to roll into that with the JASDF. … That’s why you work all those issues out now.”
Said Maj. Chad Dutton, an AWACS pilot and aircraft commander: “We get to see what some of their strengths and weaknesses are, and they can look at our strengths and weaknesses.