Working together: AWACS Combined Test Force collaborates with the 552nd Air Control Wing

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  • By Daisy Grant, Staff Writer

Fairly new to Tinker Air Force Base, the  E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System Combined Test Force is a unique partnership.

Comprised of two groups, Detachment 1 and Detachment 2, the team performs operational and developmental tests to improve AWACS, such as updating software on its terrain alert system, Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System and modernizing its digital displays.

The 605th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Detachment 1, is led by Lt. Col. Scott Gregg and includes 23 people.

The squadron falls under Air Combat Command and handles operational testing for the E-3, testing how suitable it is for the user to accomplish the mission.

The 96th Operations Group, Detachment 2, led by Lt. Col. Bradley Worden, includes ten people.

This team falls under Air Force Materiel Command and handles developmental tests for the aircraft, making sure they meet the design specifications.

Members of Det. 1 are “one deep Subject Matter Experts” who have flown on and worked with AWACS while det. 2 personnel are mostly made up of engineers with acquisition backgrounds, so the teams work closely together.

“The majority of what we do is working up to the test event, so planning for any type of testing we’re doing, and that’s making sure we’re setting the test up appropriately so it tests all the functionalities that we’re looking at, making sure that we’re meeting all those goals and everything. It’s a lot of effort,” Worden said.

“Execution is a small part of it.”

However, Gregg said the teams try to work simultaneously when possible.

“To the extent possible, we try and get operational tests involvement early in system development so when it’s practical and when it’s possible we can couple operational tests with developmental tests and speed the acquisition time along,” Gregg said.

In addition to tests, the CTF reports deficiencies found in tests, which are then addressed and tested for again on the aircraft.

There is no dedicated test aircraft, so the team has to coordinate with the 552nd ACW to borrow one for testing and provide personnel to fly on the jets, Worden said.

When new systems are approved, each of the 31 planes are taken down one at a time to be updated.

Fairly new to Tinker AFB, the team was established in 1975 in Seattle, Washington. The unit, originally named AWACS Joint Test Force, oversaw Boeing as they conducted all developmental testing.

A push to take developmental testing back into the Air Force led the unit to move to Tinker  AFB and be renamed the CTF in January 2017 as a government-led instead of a contractor-led test organization.

Since the move, the government has led and conducted all AWACS testing with assistance as required from the prime contractor.

Worden said this change puts the responsibility for verifying new system functionality more directly on the government and facilitates increased accountability on the contractor to deliver products that meet design specifications.

 In addition to the name change and emphasis on government-led test, the move to Tinker AFB also led to increased collaboration with the 552nd ACW and the Airmen flying AWACS on a daily basis.

“We’ve established a tremendous working relationship with the 552nd ACW, which allows the CTF to get immediate feedback on issues and concerns from the warfighters using the system in the field,” Worden said.

“This teamwork is incredibly valuable and essential to advancing the AWACS system as a world-class C2 asset.”