Going the Distance: 16th ACCS changes tactics for Nellis WSINT Exercise

  • Published
  • By Holly Logan-Arrington
  • Robins Public Affairs

Meeting the mission often requires thinking outside the box.

For the 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron at Robins, travel restrictions due to the global pandemic led their service members to go the distance to support the bi-annual Weapon School Integration Exercise recently held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

“The WSINT Exercise is the U.S. Air Force Weapon School’s capstone event where all of the students are faced with some of the most complex tactical problems that the Air Force could face in a combat scenario,” said Capt. Alexandra Bissey, Chief of Weapons and Tactics Shop in the 16th ACCS. “It requires detailed planning and integration of a vast number of aircraft and capabilities to reach the commander’s desired end-state, testing the student’s ability to apply all that they have learned over the course of six months.”

The exercise is the capstone event for each U.S. Air Force Weapons School class.

“Weapons School graduates serve as advisors to military leaders at all levels,” Bissey said. “These weapons officers are the instructors of the Air Force’s instructors and the service’s institutional reservoir of tactical and operational knowledge.” 

Additionally, this exercise provides the participating units a chance for their crews to carry out complex tactical plans in conjunction with the full force of air power coming to bear, Bissey said.

The Weapon School instructs and graduates students from a multitude of disciplines to include Command and Control; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Space; Cyber; Fighters; Bombers; Aerial Refueling; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles; Joint Terminal Air Controllers; and Missile Systems.

“Our unit flies on the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft,” Bissey said. “During the mission, crews provide battle management and wide area surveillance to direct the engagement of enemy forces through dynamic targeting, close air support or air interdiction.”

The unit planned for the exercise by utilizing a WSINT distributed mission planning, execution, and debrief process. This process included in-person briefings conducted at Nellis by Weapons School students and instructors, teleconferences with planners at home station, and ultimately step briefs at home station preparing crews to execute with the information provided by the various means.

“Normally, crews would travel to Nellis AFB to support the exercise so that the students can mission plan in-person with the crew and execute on their respective platforms,” Bissey said. “However, due to travel limitations in light of COVID-19, planning teams executed the distributed mission planning process and many crews flew from their respective home stations.”

In total, the crew from Robins flew five sorties and spent 60 hours on station at the Nevada Test and Training Range in support of the exercise.

The unit met a few challenges along the way.  

“The major challenges that our unit faced was the extended sortie duration, having to coordinate for aerial refueling support enroute to Nevada, and the three-hour time difference for mission planning coordination with the students at the Weapons School,” Bissey said.

Bissey said to overcome these challenges, the team established set crews, set up a Mission Planning Cell, and collaborated with the 461st Operations Support Squadron for tanker scheduling and coordination.

“Our people adapted and overcame,” she said. “Our squadron relied on continuity from our wing’s recent U.S. Air Force Weapon School graduates. Our home-station weapons officers and weapons and tactics shops led the mission planning cell and led the crew on each sortie to ensure the overall exercise desired learning objectives were being met.”

The captain said she’s proud of her unit’s phenomenal work that made this exercise a success in the midst of a global crisis.

“This entire exercise was possible in large thanks to the herculean effort put forth by the JSTARS maintenance team,” Bissey said. “Launching, receiving, and preparing jets to perform these cross-country sorties is a testament to their work ethic and capability as a professional maintenance organization.”