Shaw shapes future of air combat training through airspace initiative

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Erin Stanley
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Early in the morning, in Hilliard, Florida, the controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center (Jacksonville Center) receive transmissions about flight operations 270 miles away on the flightline at Shaw Air Force Base. Similarly, a flurry of coordination with agencies all over the country takes place at Shaw’s air traffic control center and inside the fighter jets themselves before the aircraft take off to begin their mission critical training in the skies of the southeastern United States.

Jacksonville Center is responsible for 160,000 square miles of airspace that covers parts of five U.S. states: Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and North and South Carolina, totaling 20 military airports and 225 civilian airports. 

The FAA hub employs over 320 controllers, 10 staff specialists, and 85 airway facilities employees to ensure the safety of air traffic operations in the southeastern United States and globally. 

Simultaneously, at Shaw, at least four air traffic controllers, along with members of the 20th Operations Support Squadron (OSS), work diligently to maintain the critical role that the 20th Fighter Wing (FW) plays in Jacksonville Center’s airspace. 

On Oct. 25, the two operational hubs met for the first time ever in person to discuss the partnership and proposed implementation of an airspace initiative that would affect tactical training operations at Shaw and potentially across the East Coast in months and years to come.

“This meeting with our partners at the Jacksonville Center is an important first step to open the conversation and build relationships which will enable tangible gains for training at Shaw,” said Lt. Col. Joshua “Chunk” Moffat, 20th OSS commander and project lead for the South Carolina Electronic Warfare Range (SCEWR) initiative. 

Moffat innovated the SCEWR concept alongside Airmen and leaders across the 20th FW to improve the local training environment, resulting in better prepared fighter pilots and combat aircrew.

“The goal of the SCEWR initiative is to create a training environment to prepare [Shaw] Wild Weasels for current combat operations,” said Moffat. “It is a coordinated effort with Shaw reservists, the South Carolina Air National Guard, and Marines at Beaufort Marine Corp Air Station to align interests and combine efforts to make improvements to the airspace, threat emitters, availability of contract adversary aircraft, and real time management of training.”

By proposing the implementation of these changes, training missions at Shaw can be altered to simulate more extensive capabilities of the aircraft and pilots, introducing supersonic mission profiles into the training sphere.

As the Air Force’s near peer competitors continue to modernize and increase capability and capacity, the threat to fourth and fifth generation operations has increased. The combination of limited airspace, size and location of available air to ground gunnery ranges, and type and location of available emitters affects quality of training for large-scale training simulations. 

“Our team of pilots and operations support personnel at Shaw are constantly innovating and looking to improve our airspace and scenarios to provide more realistic threat training for our Airmen,” said Col. Kevin Lord, 20th Operations Group commander. “The opportunity to meet with our FAA partners is an exciting next step in the process of working together to create a dynamic, high quality training airspace to be ready now for tomorrow’s fight.”

From a pilot’s perspective, SCEWR is a win-win for both current and future operators. 

“The SCEWR initiative and the proposed airspace constructs could grant the 20th FW the ability to accurately train tactically relevant mission parameters and associated ranges in the emerging next generation fight,” said Maj. Casey Watts, 20th OSS chief of weapons and tactics. “Our recent partnership with the FAA Jacksonville Center has made substantial progress towards mutually beneficial objectives.”

Representatives from Jacksonville Center agree.

“It was an honor to be able to meet the men and women of the 20th FW,” said Donna Weller, FAA military operations specialist. “I appreciate the time they took to share their mission and look forward to our continued partnership.”