A big aircraft, little sky!
While the first two-ship of A-10s on scene obliterated an Iraqi battalion below the clouds, our flight waited patiently to get into the fight. We were holding in the weather at medium altitude just south of the border lights on with a 1,000 foot vertical stack between the flights.
My lead had worked out an off-the-cuff aircraft separation plan with other CAS assets on our working frequency, but unfortunately they weren't the only aircraft in the area and not everyone was in contact with the same controlling agency. Suddenly, my instrument cross-check was distracted by a strange light reflecting off the surrounding clouds. Off my right shoulder was the glowing flight deck of a 0-130. Silhouetted between the heads of pilot and copilot was a great view of the navigator sitting at his crew position (yes, he was awake). A few expletives, some evasive maneuvering, and one unusual attitude recovery later, I came to the conclusion that the big sky--little aircraft concept of aircraft separation had its shortcomings.
In a peacetime training environment this situation would never be an issue--simply pick up an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) clearance or go home because the weather violates training rules. That night neither was an option. I'm a firm believer in the adage "Train Like you Fight" but this was a scenario I had never trained for. So how can you provide positive aircraft separation to non-radar-equipped aircraft in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) during operational contingencies? The answer--the Control and Reporting Center (CRC)--something all pilots should know about and understand how to use to help keep them safe in wartime conditions.
The CRC is a critical, albeit lesser-known, element of the Theater Air-Control System (TAGS). A CRC brings to the fight a complement of communications and data systems capable of full-service air battle management. Each CRC is composed of a long-range/threedimensional RADAR, operations modules, and various support equipment. Three hundred seventy warriors strong, CROs are self-sustaining combat units that deploy to any location with little or no support. In addition to its combat role, each CRC provides its own ground security, power generation, food services, and transportation. Unlike its airborne counterparts, the E-3 (AWACS) and E-8 (Joint STARS), the CRC is a ground-based, surveillance and weapons control platform that also packs a powerful punch. Just like AWACS, the CRC has five primary missions:
* Perform airspace management and control within its area of responsibility
* Detect air traffic
* Track and identify friendly and hostile
* Perform data link management
* Manage air defense activities (i.e., air refueling, close air support, counter-air/counterland operations, etc.)
When the proverbial crap hits the fan as it did for me that night--(IMC conditions, night, and major ATO changes in response to a surprise enemy offensive), controller work load and frequency saturation increase exponentially. Quality time with AWACS may not be an option.
Another key feature of a CRC that can help, particularly in marginal or bad weather, is its radar, the AN/TPS-75. The radar's ability to work through inclement weather conditions and extract non-moving targets can benefit radar and non-radar-equipped aircraft. With a god's-eye-view, CRCs are able to assist friendly airborne assets by pointing out factor traffic and thus preventing midair collisions. A CRC has the personnel, equipment, and training to provide positive separation of friendly aircraft during situations such as the one described above. Each combat crew at a CRC can be tailored to the exact number of personnel who possess the required qualifications necessary for the specific mission. CRCs operate 24 hours/7 days per week and are ready to deploy at a moment's notice. Recent deployments have seen CRCs filling the role of aircraft detection, air refueling, airspace traffic deconfliction, and relaying their air picture to the Air Operations Center.
Once, more than 50 Air Control Squadrons (ACS) were located throughout the world, today there are six active duty GAGs. The 607 ACS at Luke AEB, Ariz., serves as the field training unit and conducts formal initial qualification training for CRC operations crew personnel in tactics, techniques, and procedures.
Back to that night when I had a close up and personal with a C-130, I learned that a CRC is a godsend. Take if from a battle-hardened wingman! Big sky--little aircraft doesn't work! Be safe, train hard, fight hard, and learn how to use one of the TAGS' best kept secrets--CRC.
Editor's note: To learn more about CRCs, go to https://totn.acc.af.mil
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|Author:||Gutierrez, Susan; Brock, David Von|
|Date:||May 1, 2003|
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