PACAF air domain monitoring capability expands, evolves
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- In January 2014, a small team of intelligence Airmen began building Pacific Air Forces first air watch capability. A five-man team, comprised of enlisted and commissioned Airmen, shared a small computer nestled inside a cramped workspace. Despite their small numbers and lacking equipment, they stood up and operated a 24-hour Pacific air watch.
"Before the watch began, I'd compare our regional awareness to a game of whack-a-mole," said Capt. Justin Ross, the air watch officer in charge. "An event would pop up, draw our attention, and then we would react. We had limited visibility on what was going within the Pacific, and that put us in a reactionary position."
PACAF's mission covers 100-million square miles and over half of the world's surface. The Asia-Pacific region contains 60 percent of the world's population across 36 nations and encompasses one-third of the global economic output.
"The size and scope of what PACAF does every day is absolutely incredible," said Col. Eva Jenkins, PACAF's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance director. "Having awareness, from an air-perspective, is vital. We created the Pacific air watch capability to provide real-time, or near real-time, monitoring of military air or missile activity in the air domain."
The information the watch began collecting and analyzing soon made its way to PACAF's commander at the time, Gen. Hawk Carlisle. As it happens, Carlisle also fulfilled U.S. Pacific Command's joint force air component commander role. Suddenly, the small air watch team found their data was directly impacting mission decisions.
"The Pacific air watch team became the eyes and ears of the JFACC," Jenkins said.
The monitoring and reporting of the air watch delivered round-the-clock situational awareness.
"Generally, we were the first heard, the first ones to tell the JFACC what was happening. This put him in a position to then give the PACOM commander the decision advantage," Ross said.
The air watch began monitoring all manner of military air or missile activity, collaborating with the Joint Intelligence Operations Center in addition other centers and units throughout the Pacific and feeding that information to the JFACC.
"The decision advantage gives the commander options," said 2nd. Lt. Jacob Beeman, the air watch deputy. "For instance, if we detect certain air or missile activity, that information can then help the air component commander position assets or change procedures in response to a given activity."
According to Ross, in the Pacific air watch's short existence, there have already been several instances where activity the watch team reported has driven operations in the Pacific and State Department actions
Over the next year, attention and support for the air watch began to increase. Backing from both Carlisle, and his successor, Gen. Lori J. Robinson, instigated the need for the air domain monitoring capability to grow.
What were once four watch-standers in 2014 is expanding to 16. This year, the entire Pacific air watch is evolving and realigning with the 613th Air Operations Center at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam as the Senior Intelligence Duty Officer team. This move exponentially increases PACOM's air component monitoring and reporting capability.
"We are all looking forward to the SIDO evolution; it means great things for an already proven capability," Beeman said. "We'll have space and systems to conduct our monitoring. If you look at what the original team accomplished with the resources they had a year ago, I get filled with excitement thinking about the future of air domain monitoring. We'll be capable of doing so much more for our commander, combatant commander, and the Pacific region."