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380th AEW AWACS provide big picture to combatant commanders

An E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft awaits its crew on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019.

An E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft awaits its crew on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019. The E-3 is a modified Boeing 707/320 airframe with a distinct rotating radar dome. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford)

Crew chiefs assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron perform a foreign object debris walk prior to an E-3 Sentry taxiing for flight on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019.

Crew chiefs assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron perform a foreign object debris walk prior to an E-3 Sentry taxiing for flight on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019. The system has the ability to detect threats and control assets below and beyond the coverage of ground-based command and control, and can exchange data with other C2 systems and shooters via datalinks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford)

Crew chiefs assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron remain with their E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft until it taxis for takeoff on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019.

Crew chiefs assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron remain with their E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft until it taxis for takeoff on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019. Crew chiefs remain on standby to counter any maintenance issues that may come up during the flight crew’s checks and marshal the aircraft when ready. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford)

A crew chief assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron waits in front of the E-3 Sentry on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019.

A crew chief assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron waits in front of the E-3 Sentry on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 26, 2019. The E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jocelyn A. Ford)

AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates --

Imagine a pilot flying their aircraft in theater. While the pilot has onboard sensors downloading, processing, and providing a lot of information during the flight, their systems have limited range.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Payne, 968th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron senior surveillance technician, works within a crew that regularly reaches more than 20, each having their own specific purpose on a very technical level. Their role is to help the pilot expand this limited scope of data, and enable mission effectiveness.

“So what my job entails is that the communication systems are able to provide amplifying data to what actually is going on to a much wider area of responsibility,” said Payne. “Think of an internet connection between the airplane, and other airplanes, as well as our airplane to the ground through radio.”

Payne is an active duty Airman working side-by-side with reserve counterparts, showcasing the seamless total force integration and teamwork between Air Force components, on the E-3 Sentry Airborne Early Warning and Control System aircraft.

The AWACS is a modified Boeing 707/320 airframe with a distinct rotating radar dome whose range is more than 250 miles. The aircraft and its crew bring an unmatched capability wherever it is providing a big air picture for its area of responsibility.

“We are essentially command and control,” said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Adams, a communications technician and reservist from the 970th AACS. “We go up in the air and not only can we spot just about anyone who’s in our range, but our weapons team can command and control assets in the theater in real time.”

The communication flows in all directions. Having a command and control asset in the sky allows commanders on the ground to stay current on operations as they occur, also giving them the ability to flex the mission in real-time with real assets and have actual controllers on station, said Adams.

“So instead of someone who is sitting thousands of miles away, who isn’t attached to the mission, we’ve got people in the air who know what they are doing, who know what to look for, and can give those commanders real-time battle assessments,” said Adams.

Though time in the air lasts the greater part of a day, or even more with the AWACS in-flight refueling capability, Payne knows what he does is important and he states he loves his job.

“As an enlisted Airman, the amount of knowledge I am exposed to as how a war is actually fought is astounding,” said Payne. “Every day is different and unique and has its own challenges, but at the end of the day there is always job satisfaction.”