Active duty, reserve combine to keep "Shield" strong

  • Published
  • 53d Wing Public Affairs
When an aircraft's Radar Warning Receiver tells the pilot the enemy has him in his sights, he can't afford to second-guess his instruments. He has to take action or risk the consequences. But how does the pilot know his sensitive defensive equipment is functioning properly? 

The COMBAT SHIELD program, run by the 53d Electronic Warfare Group along with reservists from the 84th Test and Evaluation Squadron, helps ensure both aircrew and maintainers throughout the Combat Air Forces know the answer to that question. 

"Our goal is to bring trust to the cockpit, so the guy in the seat knows his RWR and his jammer are going to do what they're supposed to do, when they're supposed to do it," said Maj. Ken Rose, Combat Shield Director and senior reservist within the program. 

Combat Shield brings a unique, real-world component to assessing the reliability of aircraft defensive systems installed on F-16, F-15, A-10, HH-60, and HC-130 aircraft. 

Using their USM-642 "Raven" signal generator, Shield technicians can simulate any real-world radar emitter and precisely assess the aircraft's response within minute increments. 

It's one-of-a-kind information, and the USM-642 has few counterparts in other areas of aircraft maintenance. 

"We provide confidence building feedback pilots can't obtain for themselves in flight," said Major Rose a CS veteran with the longest tenure among the officers in the program. "The performance of other systems, such as propulsion or hydraulics, is straightforward. If they're broke, they're written up. What you see is what you get. But electronic warfare defensive systems are a different story." 

It isn't enough that a pilot can observe symbols on his RWR scope or his system passes its built-in test. Mere functionality is not enough. EW defensive systems must exceed performance thresholds too discrete for operational tests on land and water ranges, according to Major Rose. 

Local maintenance tools can measure the fidelity of the aircraft's electronic hardware, but CS goes beyond to exercise the entire system from nose to tail against an array of actual threat signals. And it does so quickly, with no flying involved and on a shoestring budget, according to the major. 

For this reason, the USM-642 is the premier EW assessment tool for the CAF. Its reprogrammability gives technicians the ability to test a variety of RWR and jammers, as well HARM (high-speed anti-radiation missile) Targeting System pods. Its speed enables the Combat Shield program to visit more than 50 wings at home station in a year and assess more than 2,500 systems. 

Because 31 out of 85 of Combat Shield's assessments for FY09 involve Air Reserve Command units and jets, the newly incorporated Total Force Integration effort was a logical choice for the unit. 

"For the first time in the program's history, ARC personnel formally assigned to COMBAT SHIELD will take part in assessing the health of the fleet," said Staff Sgt. Ed Youmans, a newly hired Air Reserve Technician from the 84 TES, positioned within the active-duty 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron as Assistant NCOIC of the Combat Shield section. 

Sergeant Youmans' duties require him to provide leadership and training for active-duty personnel in the flight, as well as take direction from his active-duty supervisor. It's an arrangement that may be hard to grasp at first, but it's got the support of the bosses. 

"Total Force ought to be seamless if it's to be effective," said Lt. Col. Dean King, 16 EWS commander. "SSgt Youmans and our inbound reservists are part of our family now, and we owe them the same opportunities to take on real responsibility and to own their jobs." 

The 84 TES is scheduled to provide the 16 EWS with four more reservists by FY12.