Friday, February 20, 2009

US Air Force, Navy Make Global Hawk a Global Mission

In this file photo, Airmen from the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron and 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group tow a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle back to its hangar after a mission Oct. 3 at a deployed location in Southwest Asia. The Global Hawk can survey large geographic areas with pinpoint accuracy to give military decision-makers the most current information about enemy locations, resources and members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jason Tudor.)

Focus on Defense:

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Feb. 20, 2009 -- The joint mission of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing expanded with the recent addition of the first operational Navy Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system, part of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS)program.

"It's a good feeling to finally get the aircraft here," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. John McLellan, the BAMS maintenance detachment officer-in-charge. "Now that we have the launch and recovery element and mission asset, we can finally bring this capability to the fight."

The BAMS is launched and recovered locally but controlled from the mission control element, or MCE, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., much like the Air Force Global Hawk, which is controlled from Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

In an Air Force-developed concept of operations called remote-split operations, the BAMS' arrival marks the culmination of more than five months of joint effort to stand up a maritime surveillance presence in the region.

Navy officials answered a Department of Defense call for increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in Southwest Asia, by sending a site survey team here in August to see if the facilities of the 380th AEW could support an added mission and to discuss joint interoperability.

After the evaluation by 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Group personnel, it was determined they could support adding the BAMS with shared use of maintenance equipment and facilities, according to Lt. Col. Matt Venzke, 380th EMXG deputy commander. This allows Navy officials to cut down their overall footprint, resulting in lower operating costs and fewer people needed, he said.

"The cooperation has really been there," Venzke said. "We've worked very well together to identify potential problems and de-conflict our work spaces to make sure everything is happening efficiently for both maintenance teams."

The sentiment is echoed by Navy personnel who arrived on station approximately one month ago and began integrating into the 380th.

"The support has been outstanding," said McLellan. "We have really been made to feel at home and a part of the team."

The Navy and the Air Force benefit from co-locating Global Hawk operations.

"The similarities between the Air Force and Navy Global Hawk [launch and recovery elements] provide enhanced mission capability by allowing each service to use the other's LRE as a back-up in the event of a malfunction", said Col. Kyle Garland, 380th Expeditionary Operations Group commander.

Navy personnel leverage Air Force expertise and proficiency with the Global Hawk platform to step into a program that has been proven in an operational environment, virtually eliminating the learning curve that usually comes with a new program, said Maj. Ronald Shivers, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron director of operations and safety observer for the arrival of the BAMS.

Operators during the BAMS development phase consisted of contractors and pilots from both the Air Force and Navy. In addition to controlling the aircraft at the forward operating location, Air Force instructors will train naval aviators. The first two scheduled are to take flight control at the MCE sometime in March, said Shivers.

Experts in the two services have been able to come together to develop a process that will ensure differences in operational and maintenance rules and standards are identified and resolved quickly.

"In areas [of maintenance] where we overlap, the BAMS maintenance personnel will adhere to the more stringent standard required by either service," said Venzke.

Though it is the first operational mission for the BAMS, the aircraft has been in service for non-wartime missions during its test and development phase.

"Our Global Hawk has been used to view damaged areas during the California wildfires as well as providing live feedback of the destruction on the Gulf Coast immediately after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike," said McLellan.

The speed at which the Air Force and Navy were able to stand up the new operational capability with minimal difficulties is an example of joint operations at their best, officials said.

(Report by Staff Sgt. Mike Andriacco, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.)

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