552d AIR CONTROL WING
The 552nd Air Control Wing is responsible to the commander of Air Combat Command for the operations, maintenance, logistics, training, and combat support of
E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft as well as ground-based Control and Reporting Centers. The wing provides combat-ready theater battle management forces at the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It deploys, operates, and supports these forces worldwide, ensuring combat capability for all peacetime and contingency operations.
The 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing was first activated at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif., July 8, 1955. The wing was charged with a worldwide deployment mission. Units of the wing were located in California, Florida, Iceland, Korea and Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian unit’s duties ceased in June 1970, ending more than five years of continuous service and control of more than 210,000 aircraft involved in combat operations, almost 3,300 MiG border warnings, and the successful rescue of 80 downed crew members.
On July 1, 1976, the 552nd Airborne Warning And Control Wing moved to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., with a new airframe. Its mission was to train crews and to provide maintenance, computer, and logistics support for the Air Force’s operational inventory of E-3 Sentry aircraft. On October 1, 1991, Headquarters Tactical Air Command redesignated the wing as the 552nd Air Control Wing.
July 8, 2020 marked the 65th anniversary of the 552nd Air Control Wing.
The 552nd Air Control Wing reports to 15th Air Force headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, SC. The wing consists of four subordinate units: the 552nd Operations Group, the 552nd Maintenance Group, the 552nd Air Control Group, and the 552nd Training Group.
The 552nd Operations Group provides the Combat Air Force with airborne systems and personnel for surveillance, warning, battle management and control of strategic, tactical, and special mission forces. The group consists of approximately 1,180 personnel assigned to the 552nd Operations Support Squadron and four operational flying squadrons; the 960th, 963rd, 964th, and 965th Airborne Air Control Squadrons.
The 552nd Maintenance Group directs logistics support of 27 E-3 AWACS aircraft valued at $9.2 billion. The group supports all E-3 sorties enabling aircrews to fly 20,500 hours annually from numerous locations world-wide. The group consists of the 552d Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 552nd Maintenance Squadron, and the 552nd Maintenance Operations Flight. The group leads over 1,450 personnel performing maintenance at both the organizational and intermediate levels. It provides trained personnel, resources, and equipment to support national policy, contingencies, and one of Air Combat Command’s largest flying training programs, generating approximately 2,300 sorties annually.
The 552nd Air Control Group is responsible for operations, maintenance, training, and combat support for two combat-coded Control and Reporting Centers. Additionally, the group provides software and ground communications for the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System fleet. The group consists of 940 personnel assigned to the 552d Air Control Networks Squadron, the 752nd Operations Support Squadron, and two geographically separated squadrons; the 726th Air Control Squadron at Mountain Home AFB, ID, and 729th Air Control Squadron at Hill AFB, UT.
The 552nd Training Group, activated on 17 August 2018, consists of approximately 225 personnel assigned to the 966th Airborne Air Control Squadron, the 552nd Training Support Squadron, and the geographically separated 436th Training Squadron at Dyess AFB, TX. The group trains crews for the Air Force's operational inventory of 31 E-3 Sentry aircraft and graduates over 300 E-3 crewmembers annually. The 436th Training Squadron conducts 14 different training courses, completing over 100 classes and instructing over 1,600 students annually. Additionally, the 436 TS Video Production Team produces professional-grade instructional videos for use DOD- wide.
On March 23, 1977, the first E-3 arrived at Tinker Air Force Base. Its arrival ushered in a new philosophy in airborne combat and forever changed the concept of airborne battle management.
Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, E-3s, aircrews and support personnel from the 552d Air Control Wing participated in deployments to Saudi Arabia (March 1979), to South Korea (October 1979) following the assassination of President Park Chung Hee, and the European theater (December 1979) to conduct joint training operations in Central Europe and the Mediterranean region in support of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet and allied forces.
In early 1979, the wing assumed a commitment to support the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
In September 1980, the wing again deployed E-3s, aircrew, and support personnel to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation “ELF ONE (Extended Long-Range Force)” to provide “around-the-clock” airborne radar coverage, and to enhance Saudi Arabian air defenses during the dispute between Iran and Iraq. E-3 crews supported “ELF ONE” for more than eight years, flying a total of 6,231 sorties for 77,211.7 hours.
During the 1980s, E-3s, aircrew, and support personnel were deployed to Egypt following the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (October 1981), to Grenada to support Operation URGENT FURY (November 1983), and in support of Operation JUST CAUSE (December 1989).
Other milestones during the 1980s included delivery of the wing’s 25th E-3 in December 1981, which brought a new updated version of the AWACS, called the U.S./NATO standard, and the wing’s re-designation to the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Division in October 1983. The division was again redesignated a wing, becoming a subordinate unit of the newly activated 28th Air Division in April 1985.
In January 1990, the wing deployed personnel and four E-3s to Roosevelt Roads NAS, Puerto Rico, in response to the expanded drug interdiction missions assigned to the 552 AW&CW. This deployment, known as AGATE PATH, established a forward operating base for counter narcotic operations in the Central American region. Since then, the 552 ACW has provided 32,784 hours of counter-narcotics support.
In August 1990, following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces, the wing deployed E-3s and personnel to Saudi Arabia and Turkey in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM and PROVEN FORCE, respectively. On January 16, 1991, E-3 support packages of the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Wing executed airborne control over several of the initial strikes on Iraq in Operation DESERT STORM. Beginning on January 17, 1991, both deployed forces played a prominent role in the successful execution of Operation DESERT STORM. The E-3 aircraft and aircrews flew a total of 7,314.7 combat hours during DESERT STORM and controlled 20,401 air refueling sorties with tankers off-loading more than 178 million gallons of gas to 60,543 receivers.
In March 1991, after the Gulf War, the wing remained in the Persian Gulf region. Wing personnel and aircraft in Southwest Asia continued a post-war surveillance role, while wing assets in Turkey continued to provide surveillance support for Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, the protection of Kurdish refugees. 552nd personnel provided 24,798 hours of on-station support flying 3,178 sorties during the seven year operation.
In October 1991, the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Wing was redesignated the 552nd Air Control Wing. In May 1992, the 28th Air Division was inactivated and the 552nd Air Control Wing was reorganized.
During 1993, the 552nd Air Control Wing continued its worldwide force protection mission in support of Operations PROVIDE COMFORT and SOUTHERN WATCH in Southwest Asia. In January, a 552nd Air Control Wing E-3 flying a “Southern Watch” mission over the Persian Gulf region, guided an air strike against Iraqi ground targets in response to Iraqi violations of United Nations resolutions. Four days later, a wing E-3 guided a United States Air Force F-16 in the interception and destruction of an Iraqi MiG-29. This attack sequence followed a violation of the United Nations’ imposed “no-fly” zone over Northern Iraq.
In July 1993, the 552 ACW ended its short tenure with the 2nd Air Force and came under the 12th Air Force.
In September 1994, the wing flew 23 missions over Haiti supporting Operation UPHOLD DEMOCRACY. This operation ousted military leaders to return duly-elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to power.
In July 1996, the Air Force Reserve activated the 513th Air Control Group. The 513th Air Control Group worked in conjunction with the 552d Air Control Wing and the host reserve unit at Tinker - the 507th Air Refueling Wing. This activation improved the 552 ACW’s ability to support its mission and improve quality of life for wing members, reducing the amount 552 ACW members deployed annually. The 513th’s mission paralleled that of the 552d ACW. The 552nd maintained “ownership” of the E-3 aircraft, but allowed the reservists to assist with aircraft maintenance as well as fly missions.
In November 1998, wing members were deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation DESERT THUNDER in response to United Nations weapons inspectors being expelled from Iraq. In December, 552nd E-3 members deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation DESERT FOX, also in response to UN weapons inspectors being expelled from Iraq, as well as the increase in “no-fly” zone violations.
In March 1999, the commander of European Command requested the 552 ACW provide forces in support of Operation ALLIED FORCE, NATO’s response to the crisis in Kosovo. Three E-3s and 125 personnel deployed to Geilenkirchen AB, Germany, flying 47 sorties in support of NATO forces in the Balkans.
From 2000-2003, 552 ACW E-3 crews supported Operation NORTHERN WATCH, flying 633 sorties for 3,955.6 hours.
In February 2001, the 552nd Air Control Wing saw the final flight of the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System’s Block 20/25 aircraft (tail #75-0557). In September 2001, the wing saw completion of the Block 30/35 upgrade when that same aircraft rolled out of depot maintenance.
During March of 2001, in an effort to bring the 552nd Air Control Wing in alignment with the needs of the Expeditionary Aerospace Force, the 960th Airborne Warning and Control Squadron was reactivated and redesignated as the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron.
On September 11, 2001, the 552nd was one of the first units to be tasked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command to protect the airspace over North America as part of Operation NOBLE EAGLE (ONE). Within hours, AWACS was patrolling the skies over North America in homeland defense. Around-the-clock patrols continued until the Spring of 2002. Since 9/11, US E-3 crews have flown over 605 sorties, providing over 6,980 hours of coverage.
By late September, the wing was also supporting the war on terrorism. On 27 September 2001, E-3 aircraft and AWACS personnel were deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. By late September, in addition to AWACS’ worldwide taskings increasing, its number of people increased with the activation of 231 members of the 513th Air Control Group, the E-3 associate reserve unit.
Never in its history had the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance been used to defend the United States, but all that changed on October 9, 2001, when the first of five NATO E-3s and a detachment of more than 180 personnel arrived at Tinker AFB in support of Operation EAGLE ASSIST. This action was one of eight measures taken by NATO in its first execution of Article 5 of the 1949 Washington Treaty that created NATO.
By the following May, U.S. AWACS had flown more than 590 ONE missions, totaling nearly 7,100 flying hours in support of homeland defense operations. NATO AWACS had also flown approximately 380 ONE missions, totaling nearly 4,300 flying hours in support of Operation EAGLE ASSIST, NATO’s support of Operation NOBLE EAGLE.
In October 2002, HQ ACC transferred the 552 ACW from under 12th AF to 8th AF, Barksdale AFB, LA.
Thanksgiving of 2002 brought another first as a single airborne air control squadron deployed to Thumrait Air Base, Oman in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. In January of 2003, 5 E-3s, aircrew, and associated support personnel and equipment redeployed from Thumrait, Oman to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, to join the largest deployment of AWACS aircraft, personnel, and equipment in preparation for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.
April of 2003 marked the beginning of the return of the wing from Prince Sultan Air Base and by June all 552nd Air Control Wing aircraft, personnel, and equipment were at home station. This marked the first-ever period of reconstitution for the wing.
In November 2004, the wing re-entered the war on drugs with a deployment of aircraft, personnel, and equipment to Manta, Ecuador.
In 2005, following the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, the wing flew 16 contingency management missions totaling over 158 hours in 8 days. Following Hurricane Rita, the wing flew 14 missions totaling over 117 hours.
In March of 2007, the wing returned to the Middle East flying missions in support of Operations IRAQI and ENDURING FREEDOM. From September 2001 until ENDURING FREEDOM ended in 2014, 552nd crews flew 6,589 sorties providing 79,764 hours of Battle Management Command and Control in support of ENDURING FREEDOM.
On 1 May 2008, the 552nd Communications Group was inactivated, and the 552nd Air Control Group was activated in its place along with four CONUS-based Air Control Squadrons. The three combat-coded CRCs deployed regularly in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM.
On 1 October 2009, HQ ACC transferred the 552 ACW out from the 8 AF and was once again under the 12 AF, Davis Monthan AFB, AZ.
From March-November 2011, the 552nd Air Control Wing took part in Operation ODYSSEY DAWN, later named Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, enforcing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan citizens under the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. 552nd E-3 maintainers launched 284 sorties on which E-3 aircrews flew 2,446 hours in support of Operations ODESSY DAWN and UNIFIED PROTECTOR.
In 2013, the 552 ACG lost two of the four air control squadrons. In April 2013, HQ ACC inactivated the 728 ACS as part of the force reduction initiative. In July 2013, the 607th ACS transferred from Air Combat Command (under the 552 ACG) to Air Education and Training Command.
In March 2012, the 552 ACW received the first Block 40/45 E-3. The 40/45 modifications were the largest enhancements, modifications, and modernizations to the E-3 aircraft in its history. In June 2014, Gen Gilmary Hostage, HQ ACC Commander, approved the 40/45 E-3Gs status change to IOC, authorizing them to be utilized in support of operations world-wide. In May 2015, the 964 AACS deployed the first E-3G to Curacao in support of counter-drug operations. Later that year, in November 2015, the 964 AACS deployed the first E-3G to CENTCOM in support of combat operations. The first E-3G combat sortie took place on 20 November 2015 in support of strikes against ISIS/ISIL targets.
On 1 October 2015, HQ ACC transferred the 436 Training Squadron from the 7 BW at Dyess AFB, TX to the 552 ACW. The 436 TS provides world-class training classes and video production capabilities for units around the Air Force.
The 726 ACS and 729 ACS now also operate an upgraded Tactical Air Operations Module, the AN/TYQ-23A (V)1. This new technology enables the CRCs to provide improved command and control and tactical execution of air battles in support of component commanders in operational theaters.
In August 2017, 552 crews supported Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma rescue and recovery efforts. In September 2018, the 552 ACW flew in support of the Hurricane Florence rescue and recovery mission.
In January 2017, the first E-3 with a DRAGON modified flight deck arrived at Tinker and began operational testing. In September 2017, the first Internet Protocol Enabled Comm (IPEC) modified E-3 arrived at Tinker AFB. The IPEC E-3s deployed within 3 months.
On 20 August 2020, HQ ACC transferred the 552 ACW from the 12 AF to under the 15 AF at Shaw AFB, SC.
Today, the wing operates the world’s premier airborne and ground air battle management platforms. With the upgrades to the CRC electronic system infrastructure and the 40/45, DRAGON, and IPEC upgrades to the E-3 fleet, the 552 ACW will continue to support our nation and provide US forces Unparalleled Air Battle Management well into the next century.