The most recent deployment to Southwest Asia operations for the 960th Expeditionary Airborne Control Squadron from Tinker AFB, Okla., was remarkable for its accomplishments, including achieving a 100 percent operational rate with the Internet relay chat system employed now as primary in-theater air command and control system, according to Lt. Col. Lawrence Brundidge, 960th EAACS commander. He noted, too, the “amazing amount of teamwork” among his E-3 AWACS force and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance assets, like the U-2 and RQ-4 Global Hawk. Lt. Col. Jeff Wardell, director of operations, said that over the 4.5-month rotation, the 960th flew 150 sorties, translating into 1,700 hours flying time; controlled more than 6,400 aircraft; and handled more than 350 requests for air cover from ground forces. CMSgt. William Lick, squadron chief, noted that gaining the 100-percent ops rate for the IRC system was “a big success,” because it poses “unique challenges” for the E-3, but it provides critical beyond-line-of-sight text-messaging capability from aircraft to aircraft and with ground troops. (Tinker report by 1st Lt. Kinder Blacke)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.