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Pacific edition, Thursday, May 10, 2007

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The joint tactical air controller and the F-16 pilot: In the war in Iraq, they need each other.

Over the past several weeks, they’ve been working together in training to nab fictitious insurgents, spot suspicious vehicles and safely direct convoys through a maze of buildings.

The 13th Fighter Squadron at Misawa has teamed with two air controllers from Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, for its spin-up to Iraq. The “Panthers” are expected to deploy later this month. They’re practicing use of a technology that connects pilots and air controllers via a live video link that allows U.S. troops to see where the enemy is.

“What we bring to the fight with these advanced (targeting) pods is we have the ability to have eyes in the sky — a God’s eye view — of what’s really going on,” said fighter pilot Capt. Robert Stimpson.

As F-16s rumbled through Misawa skies Tuesday, airmen on the ground scampered from empty buildings at Camp Defender and parked vehicles in strategic locations. Stimpson rode with the two ground controllers in a Humvee through the camp, waiting for the pilots overhead to see the action below. Sure enough, a radio crackle confirmed they did.

Stimpson said the pilots can’t see every detail, such as whether a person is carrying a gun. But they can see enough to alert an approaching convoy to suspicious activity. “We can call them to stop, because two blocks later, we’ve got dudes on the roof that are moving around,” he said.

The targeting pod beams down ground images to the air controller’s specially built laptop so coordinates and landmarks can be checked and rechecked and any human error eliminated.

“Here in the Air Force we have the best equipment imaginable, but human is the ultimate factor,” said Staff Sgt. Krystoffer Bowman, a joint tactical air controller with the 604th Air Support Operations Squadron at Camp Red Cloud.

The training at Misawa is to ensure the pilots know how to use their cockpit tools “in a way that we need it on the ground,” he added. “We’re not too much concerned about [the pilots] but the guys on the ground, bringing them home alive.”

In combat, the air controller backs up what the pilot sees.

“Any time that munitions might cause political ramifications or take someone’s life, we’re going to be there to make sure it hits the correct target,” he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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