International air defense teams help to control RIMPAC skies

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stan Pak
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs
The Hawaii Air National Guard's 169th Air Defense Squadron teamed up with international air defense counterparts to help control the air space in and around Hawaii during RIMPAC 2016, June 30 to Aug. 4.

Joining the 169th ADS were air defense experts from the Royal Canadian Air Force [RCAF] and the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF].

Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC, is the world's largest international maritime exercise. The biennial event took place in the waters and skies around the Hawaiian Islands as well as Southern California. This year's iteration involved twenty-six nations, five submarines, 45 ships, and over 200 aircraft.

According to Staff Sgt. Adam Bray, 169th ADS weapons director, integrating with the foreign controllers was a valuable lesson.

"The best thing you can say about the integrating is that we all get some lessons to take home with us," Bray said. "We get to see how they operate and they get to see how we operate, so we get the best of all practices to figure out what would work best given any situations, especially since we're integrating on the flying and controlling side of the house."

To maintain the state mission 169th ADS operates 24-7 365 days of the year.
"For our state mission what we do is defend Hawaii skies so if something is in the air or around Hawaii we have to know who it is, if they're not talking to us and we don't know who they are we've got to find out," said Bray. "Whether that's through communications, computers, chatting with other agencies, or if it requires us putting a jet in the air to figure it out."

Controlling air space required close coordination and constant communication between the international partners. A high degree of team work was required in order to accomplish the missions.

"They're really good, they work hard and they're easy to work with and they communicate really well. We'll go back and forth...we seem to have a pretty good rhythm," Bray said. "It's good to have people you can rely on."

For some of the visiting air defense controllers, the exercise provided valuable experience working in a complex airspace.

"The Australians and especially the Hawaii Air National Guard have been fantastic to us, they really helped us out trying to integrate here with the operation," said Lieutenant Ross Nevile, RCAF weapons controller.  "The amount of traffic in the airspace has been an amazing experience. For myself being a newer controller I don't get to see this amount of traffic going through a tactical airspace."

According to Squadron Leader Ivan Saunders, mission commander for the RAAF air defense team, a main goal for his team was to successfully integrate and control within a coalition environment.

"We've integrated very well into the U.S Air Force team." Saunders said. "One of our objectives is to integrate coalition partners into our weapons team. We've got one of the Canadian controllers integrating into our team with the mission and the same for the 169th controllers."

A primary task for the controllers during the exercises is to give the aircraft a tactical picture once they're airborne.

"We're basically an extra wingman for them as we get the god's eye view from the radar so they can see in front of them while we see down and on top of them," Nevile said. "We aid them and help them fight the fight."

Throughout RIMPAC 169th controllers had to maintain focus on their real world mission.

"With the higher ops tempo we have a few manning issues as far as our own guys are concerned," Bray said. "We have to activate traditional personnel to control more often since we also have our surveillance mission watching the Hawaii airspace. We all just have to pull a little extra weight."  
The 169th ADS is the only Air National Guard unit performing a Title 10 (active duty) mission with a majority of personnel in a Title 32 (full-time national guard) technician status.