Data Defenders: Few like Robins equipped to protect electronic assets

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Imagine if our enemies held in their possession valuable classified information that could potentially be used against the United States. 

Technology like that originating from a powerful weapon system used to gather intelligence, radio frequency data, critical navigation details, enemy air and ground locations ... the list goes on. 

So, a small group of electronics mechanics in the 566th Electronics Maintenance Squadron at Robins quietly performs a mission here to ensure that scenario doesn't happen. 

They come to work through the front gates only to pass through yet another layer of security leading into a cavernous building replete with sophisticated electronic warfare capabilities that would undeniably make our enemies shudder.

Robins is only one of a handful of places equipped to handle such a workload.

"With all of these assets, they must be handled through facilities that have been set up for classified materials," said Chad Fowler, 566th EMXS Radar supervisor. "That's to ensure we can keep that work within the Electronic Maintenance Group. There's a lot involved; not everyone can handle this type of work."       

Stroll in a little deeper and you'll come to a group of work tables encircled by the sound of metal being pounded with a purpose. The tools of the trade include hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers and paint markers. 

"We basically disassemble and declassify assets from day to day. It's a cradle to grave operation," said Ernest Greer, 566th EMXS electronics mechanic.

The work is steady. Since the beginning of fiscal 2015, a total of 1,600 units have been declassified. 

"The purpose of declassification is to prevent items from falling into the wrong hands," said Kahn Wahl, 566th EMXS Radar Flight chief. "Everything is stripped off the units that come in so they can't be used in the future."

Where do items come from?
Sometimes assets are taking up needed inventory space. Other times a classified asset is no longer serviceable, so it has to undergo the process. And sometimes it's because an asset has become obsolete.

The main assets undergoing declassification originate from numerous aircraft platforms, such as various aircraft pods, various Electronic Warfare, Precision Attack, Ground Equipment and circuit cards. 

The circuit cards are removed (the pounding you read about earlier), and taken from inside an aircraft's line replaceable unit. Parts numbers, labels and other identifying information are scrubbed        from existence.

"Once engineers from the System Program Office have identified what is classified, they come in and our folks remove and handle the pieces accordingly based on their instructions," said Richard Orta, 566th EMXS Scheduling Element chief.

Travelling wave tube designs are also removed. Designs such as those are destroyed to ensure their specifications are no longer produced. Sometimes hazardous materials are disposed; that's identified prior to an asset's arrival. 

Even after they are worked at Robins, there are additional steps that must be taken. 

All items are considered classified until after they're routed and destroyed by the National Security Agency or other means. Larger pieces are sent to the Defense Logistics Agency's Disposition Services where they're later destroyed. 

While there's always been a declassification process at Robins, the process is more streamlined today due to dedicated workers.

"As we get better every time we complete a job, we've been more cost-effective in getting the units out more efficiently," said Orta.