610 ACF sets the stage
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- In many endeavors, such as theatrical or musical performances, the people behind the scenes are rarely recognized for their part. Similarly, during training exercises, the pilots are usually the stars of the show. However, they wouldn't be able to perform without the help of their stage hands, the 610th Air Control Flight. They may not be the ones in the spotlight, but without them the show could not go on.
Though small in number, the 610 ACF has an important mission of providing command and control for all aircraft flying in Northern Japan.
"Our job is to make sure all U.S. aircraft are aware of each other, as well as any Japan Air Self-Defense Force or civilian aircraft flying in the same area," said Tech. Sgt. David Boyd, 610 ACF weapons director. "We make sure our fighters stay within the airspace given to us from the country of Japan and if there is ever an emergency, we are the first to respond. It is our responsibility, in an emergency, to get the pilots the help they need and contact the correct agencies to handle the situation at hand."
Approximately 15 people are in charge of controlling offensive and defensive counter-missions for F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots performing Suppression of Enemy Air Defense and Destruction of Enemy Air Defense missions, as well as providing guidance and ensuring safety of flight.
The 610 ACF forms a team with pilots to do tactical missions. During the missions, they formulate a game plan and brief it to the pilots before they fly into the airspace. Then when the pilots are there, the 610 ACF controls the mission.
For training missions they can either control "good guys" or "bad guys", referred to as blue air and red air respectively, and simulate what could happen in a war-time scenario.
"When they [pilots] do certain missions, we play along with whatever they are doing," said Senior Airman Jonathan Huggins, 610 ACF senior director technician. "For example if they are fighting against a certain kind of aircraft, it's our job to know what that aircraft can do. We also inform them of the location of enemy jets, their range and when ally pilots are in threat range."
On a daily basis, the 610 ACF works side-by-side with members of the JASDF to provide air command and control in the Northern Sector of Japan. Teams from both the U.S. Air Force and JASDF work out of the same operations center using JASDF equipment and sensors.
"Coordination and cooperation is needed every day to ensure both countries are able to achieve their desired objectives for the day," said 1st Lt. Preston Phillips, 610 ACF air weapons officer.
Though often confused for air traffic controllers, the 610 ACF is in charge of controlling aircraft in large portions of airspace. Air traffic controllers guide air traffic and control aircraft around bases, whereas the 610 ACF keeps them separated and controls them over fighting ranges and when they're in the airspace.
"Air traffic controllers are primarily responsible for the safe separation and deconfliction of aircraft and airfields," said Staff Sgt. Devon Sonly, 610 ACF NCO in charge of weapons and tactics. "We are responsible for providing situational awareness and direction to aid in fighter targeting. This allows the fighters to take shots at range and increase survivability while maximizing our [the Air Force's] lethality."
As part of the mission essential crew, the 610 ACF is out there every day helping pilots train and complete their missions on a daily basis.
"We are their eyes and ears when they cannot see," said Boyd. "We guide them [pilots] to intercept enemy aircraft, as well as help them stay safe in the airspace."