Lessons learned during more than a decade of Middle East air operations resulted in an expansion of Pacific Air Forces’ Air Operations Center in Hawaii, its top commander said.

“As our operations in the Gulf region evolved over the past 12 to 15 years, we saw a need for a much more concentrated corps of highly trained people whose primary function is command and control,” Col. Paul Avella, 502nd Air Operations Group commander said in a telephone interview.

PACAF’s operations center is to see a manning increase of 109 positions in the coming year as part of the Air Force’s stateside realignment announced last month.

Avella said the group’s mission is multifaceted, overseeing command and control of air, space and information operations in the Pacific. However, he noted, Osan Air Base’s 607th operations center focuses on the Korean peninsula.

Through a core group of experts in communications, weather, mobility, reconnaissance, operations and plans, rescue and security, Avella said the center provides PACAF’s commander, Gen. William Begert, the muscle needed to execute any mission given him by national command authorities.

The Air Force general in charge of strengthening the service’s five AOCs said those centers must be thought of as weapons systems.

“The AOC is fundamental to what makes us great as an Air Force,” Lt. Gen. Ronald E. Keys, the deputy chief of staff for air and space operations, told the Air Force News Service earlier this year. “If you have a group of airplanes but you don’t have an AOC, you don’t really have an air force. You have a flying club.”

Keys has identified three targets to achieve AOC goals: developing and fusing technology, training and managing command and control workers, and standardizing the centers.

Avella said a significant challenge for PACAF is to bringing together all the elements needed for the AOC concept to succeed.

“We saw a need to have a professional corps; a concentrated corps of highly trained people whose primary function is command and control,” he said. “Then when something erupts, we won’t have to pull together people who may not know each other, or who haven’t worked together.”

The 502nd, headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, consists of seven squadrons. The addition of 109 positions brings unit manning to 265 billets.

Avella said during contingencies or crises, manning can be increased “incrementally” by 125 people with the addition of the 157th Air Operations Group, an Air National Guard unit based at Jefferson Barracks, Mo.

“How many more people we will need depends on how big we have to scale our operations,” he said.

Elements of the center are deployable, Avella said, and the center has demonstrated its ability to work away from Hawaii during bilateral Cobra Gold exercises last year in Thailand, and earlier this year at Yama Sakura exercises in Japan.

He said the Pacific region remains a dynamic one.

“If you look around our [area of responsibility], Indonesia is a place where things can get exciting; and the Philippines is a place that is an issue,” he said. “These are things we want to be prepared for,” he said.

History of the 502nd

The 502nd Air Operations Group traces its lineage to the 502nd Tactical Control Group activated in the United States on Aug. 10, 1945, according to PACAF officials in Hawaii.

At the beginning of the Korean War, it was the Air Force’s only active tactical control group. It reached Korea in September 1950 and remained on the peninsula until after the war ended, deactivating there on Oct. 1, 1957.

The 502nd is credited with all 10 campaign streamers of the Korean War, two Presidential Unit Citations and three Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations.

PACAF’s 502nd AOC was reactivated last October.

— Wayne Specht

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