53rd ATCS provides communications, air traffic control

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
While the 53rd Air Traffic Control Squadron may have a new name, its unique mission has remained the same.

Formerly known as the 53rd Combat Communications Squadron, aligned under the 5th Combat Communications Group, Air Force Space Command, the squadron now falls under the 461st Air Control Wing, Air Combat Command. The active duty wing is home to the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System - a command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft that supports combatant commanders across the globe. 

For the first time since the squadron's redesignation in May 2015, several members recently deployed in its first exercise in a proof-of-concept airlift mission with JSTARS.

"We will be tying in the squadron's deployed air traffic control and landing systems and the 53rd ATCS mission with JSTARS operations," said Master Sgt. Amanda Randall, 53rd ATCS Airfield Systems NCOIC.

The squadron, made up of nearly 120 airmen, primarily includes ground radar systems and electrical power production professionals, air traffic controllers, as well as cyber transport and communications personnel.

Senior Airman Alex Hauk, a ground radar systems journeyman, has been in the Air Force for five years. Having the requisite knowledge and skills is one thing, but it's an ongoing process that allows him to feel capable as well as comfortable around various communications equipment in the field. 

"Training is critical," he said. "There's so much that goes into this job. Not only do you have to learn how to pack and set up equipment, but you also have to know how to maintain, troubleshoot and work with the equipment that you have." 

"There are a lot of skills that I've learned, and I've learned that here," he said. 

As several pallets of equipment were being prepared before the exercise, a dedicated training area behind the squadron's buildings was bustling with activity.

Several shelters resembling portable shipping container units were assembled in a row. Inside each were sophisticated communications equipment, airport surveillance radars and the like, all capable of providing real-time air traffic control operations as needed. 

"We can be anywhere in the world," said Randall. "We can go to an established air strip with pavement, or to a bare base where they're doing landing zone/drop zone only." 

A full suite of navigation systems can be found inside some of the shelters, which can include airport surveillance and precision approach radar - all of which essentially provides a portable airport of sorts.

"We also have test equipment that can be utilized, environmental control units and other instruments," added Hauk. 

Squadron members have 36 hours to set up a complete suite in the field, but that's usually done sooner, leaving time to perform any needed maintenance, flight checks and more. 

For this exercise, one of the squadron's mobile control towers was being further prepared. The tower, mounted on the back of a Humvee, can be lifted to provide a view of an airfield environment where aircraft take off and land. A support generator and backup generator will also be airlifted.  

"Getting everything set up quickly is a pretty big challenge," said Hauk. "But with the training that we do throughout the year, we can do it."