Air Force News

New early warning mission has familiar past

Released: 6 Jul 1999

by Dr. Kenneth C. Kan
Air Force Reserve Command Historical Services

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFPN) -- Air Force Reserve Command's airborne warning and control system mission at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., is only three years old, but reservists flew a similar early warning and control mission in the 1970s.

On July 30, 1971, Air Force Reserve headquarters here redesignated the 79th Military Airlift Squadron, Homestead AFB, Fla., as the 79th Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron, and replaced its C-124 cargo planes with EC-121D's.

Today, the Reserve's 513th Air Control Group and its 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron fly and maintain E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft at Tinker with an active-duty unit. The Reserve associate unit announced its initial operational capability March 8. Two months later, selected group personnel were mobilized to support U.S. military operations overseas.

The EC-121D, with radomes on top and below the aircraft fuselage and six tons of electronic surveillance equipment, was a modified Air Force C-121 passenger aircraft, the military version of Lockheed's Constellation commercial plane. The 79th AEW&CS mission was to provide "airborne radar surveillance and tactical control of air defense weapons" for "air defense and contingency operations."

Initially, squadron aircrews flew missions in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. In 1974, the 79th AEW&CS converted to EC-121T's and sent its "D" models off to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.

In 1976, the Reserve early warning program underwent significant changes. At the time, the Air Force wished to terminate for economy purposes its EC-121 Iceland mission. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, however, requested that the Air Force continue the mission pending other arrangements due to State Department concerns that without the EC-121 presence, Iceland would not have any warning of airspace intrusions. Accordingly, the Air Force assigned the 79th AEW&CS responsibility for flying missions out of Keflavik, Iceland, on a rotational basis.

The Aerospace Defense Command activated Detachment 1 of the 20th Air Defense Squadron on March 1, 1976, at Homestead to support the Reserve effort.

This augmentation by active-duty aircrews and support personnel in effect became an active associate program, the reverse of the Reserve associate program begun in 1968. Reserve associate flying units do not own their own aircraft; instead unit personnel fly and maintain those belonging to collocated active-duty units.

On Dec. 1, 1976, the Reserve activated the 915th Airborne Early Warning and Control Group at Homestead to provide control and command supervision over the 79th AEW&CS.

In 1978, the Air Force ended the EC-121 Iceland and Florida missions once E-3A AWACS aircraft entered the aircraft inventory. On Oct. 1, 1978, except for maintaining one EC-121 on station in Iceland for another six weeks to accommodate E-3A delivery delays, the Air Force Reserve began converting its EC-121 units to fighter operations. Effective that date, Air Force Reserve redesignated the 915th AEW&CG as a tactical fighter group and inactivated the 79th AEW&CS, replacing it at Homestead with the 93rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, the Reserve's first F-4C equipped unit. (Courtesy of AFRC News Service)


* E-3 Sentry (AWACS)
* Air Force Reserve Command
* Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
* Robins Air Force Base, Ga.
* Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.
* U.S. State Department