MIRGOROD AIR BASE, Ukraine – A team of four controllers from the Western Air Defense Sector is participating in SAFE SKIES 2011 a joint US, Ukraine and Polish event in which American Air National Guard pilots fly engagements with Ukrainian Su-27s, MiG-29s and Polish F-16s to develop the Ukraine and Polish air sovereignty operations in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, 2012 EUROCup and 2014 Winter Games in Europe. The involvement truly demonstrates the true strength of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.
During the two-week event many airborne scenarios will be played out. One scenario is the Ukrainian Air Force rushing to its Su-27s and MiG-29s in order to intercept U.S. F-16C/D fighter aircraft. Another scenario is Ukrainian L-39s and AN-26s playing the role of a distressed or hijacked aircraft presenting a threat to the Ukrainian and Polish citizens. The capabilities and insight provided by WADS are instrumental when the aircraft are scrambled; WADS controllers coordinate the U.S. fighters while Ukraine and Polish controllers work with their own fighters.
“Every country’s military defends itself, we are not trying to teach them how to do that. What we are doing is sharing the insight we have learned since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. We want to help ensure a tragedy like that does not happen on Ukrainian soil,” said Maj. Dan Wrazier, the senior WADS controller and member of the Washington Air National Guard.
In Washington, WADS passes on important information to the alert sites around the U.S. by identifying potential airborne threats. The Alert pilots receive information on the aircraft presenting the threat or “track of interest -TOI” and pass that information to the pilots intercepting the TOI.
The Ukrainian process is very similar with the collaboration of the Ukraine Air Traffic Control and Ground Control Intercept teams. The Ukraine controllers communicate with the air traffic controllers and the alert-aircraft coordinating the engagement; relaying critical and time-- sensitive information back to the national leadership team.
“From the basics, the controllers here handle the intercept and controller processes very similar to ours. What is different is our unique forms of measurement; we keep finding ourselves converting the U.S. measurement standards of Nautical Miles (distance), Feet (altitude) and Knots (speed) into kilometers, meters and kilometers per hour…which takes some getting used to,” said Tech. Sgt. Lonnie Talley, part of the WADS team and a member of the Washington Air National Guard.
Despite small challenges, the WADS team has been making an immediate positive impact and is learning a great deal while conducting these practice scenarios.
As the Ukrainian-U.S. partnership matures, mutual benefits from exercises like SAFE SKIES increase.
“Working with our Ukrainian counterparts is very fulfilling,” said Talley. “They take the mission of homeland defense very seriously and are very good at what they do. The equipment we are using is a little different, but the mission is the same, providing useful and timely information to the pilots so they can mitigate any airborne threat.”
The WADS provides a critical component to the United States homeland defense mission. Located in Washington at Joint Base McChord, WADS is responsible for coordinating all airborne alert aircraft in the western United States. Its sister organization, EADS, is responsible for the Eastern Air Defense Sector.
SAFE SKIES 2011 will continue through July 29, and is scheduled to conduct more than 50 intercepts. As the event progresses, the scenarios will become more challenging and will ensure the Ukraine and Polish Air Force are prepared to thwart any future airborne threats.