AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
The day started at 5:30 a.m. on May 23, 2019, a crisp spring morning at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The rising sun had barely crested the horizon as vehicle engines roared to life inside the 606th Air Control Squadron’s compound. Headlights buzzed on, and row by row, the vehicles rolled past a small crowd of smiling 31st Fighter Wing leadership gripping coffee cups in one hand and waving goodbye with the other.
The convoy carried precious cargo, one of the squadron’s two TPS-75 radar systems and America’s Airmen, on its way down winding roads and up steep inclines to a small commercial airport outside Pula, Croatia, 168 miles away. Once there, Airmen from the 606th ACS, call sign “Primo”; the 31st Force Support Squadron; and the 123rd ACS, an Air National Guard unit out of Cincinnati, worked side by side to establish camp and get the radar online. A journey that began at 5:30 a.m. didn’t end until 7 p.m. that evening.
“And we rolled right into 12-hour shifts,” said Capt. Christopher Delano, 606th ACS detachment commander, with a smile.
But the hard work paid off, Delano said. With camp set up and the TPS-75 fully operational, the site is prepared for the start of Astral Knight 2019, a joint, multinational exercise designed to test integrated air and missile defense capabilities in Europe. The 606th ACS is U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s only tactical command and control squadron. It is tasked with providing tactical command and control for a variety of aircraft during the exercise, including visiting F-35A Lightning IIs from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
The TPS-75 is integral to providing that command and control function, as is its location in Croatia, said Lt. Col. Brian Robertson, 606th ACS commander. The particular airspace is over the Adriatic Sea, moving the TPS-75 to Croatia provided a proximity advantage and an opportunity to build relationships with our allies.
“It gives us better connectivity,” Robertson said. Airspace data pulled from the radar is communicated to Airmen at the Control and Reporting Center back at Aviano, who communicate that data to pilots and use it to make crucial battle management decisions.
The exercise features participants from multiple nations, including Croatia, Italy, and Slovenia, and assets from the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army. Exercises like Astral Knight 2019 make for more timely and coordinated responses during real world crises.
“We’re not going to fight a war alone in today’s day and age,” said Robertson. “We’re going to rely heavily on our NATO partners.”
The same sentiment holds true of the relationship among units at the 606th ACS’s site in Croatia, according to Delano. The 31st FSS set up a single pallet expeditionary kitchen to feed Airmen on site. The 123rd ACS augmented the 606th with personnel and experience.
“The 123rd, their experience is 30 years plus in some instances,” Delano said. “We couldn’t have supported this radar site without them.”
As Astral Knight 2019 ramps up, the 606th ACS is engaged and ready to support.
“Now that we’re set up, we can focus on the smaller details and improve processes so that when we’re asked to do this kind of mission, we know it like the back of our hand,” Delano said.