Despite Sentry Savannah being a fighter-centric exercise, air mobility personnel were already hard at work even before it had officially begun. A dozen C-130 Hercules and 5 C-17 Globemaster IIIs transports brought in personnel and cargo in preparation for the exercise, and they hit the ground running.
“The deployment process is very similar to that of going downrange,” says Captain Phillips. “Sentry Savannah is more than a bunch of fighters flying out of Savannah. Given the mobility airlift aspect, command & control staff, tanker operations, combined with logistical and support personnel – there are a lot of people involved in making Sentry Savannah a reality. The singular task of deploying from your home station to Savannah and back is a big part of the exercise and great practice for our team.”
Several key facets make the ADC such an ideal location for training on a large scale, and one of the most integral pieces is the vast amount of over-water airspace. Located just off the coast, a short “drive” from Savannah, the available airspace out over the Atlantic Ocean covers several hundred miles, with an altitude range from the water to unlimited. The vast expanse of the Warning Areas (whiskeys) allows crews to fully employ their aircraft just as they should – without restraint.
The airspace is also fully instrumented with Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI), which provides real-time viewing and detailed debriefing of the twice-daily missions. Participating aircraft were also able to make use of the nearby Townsend Bombing Range, and many exercise scenarios incorporated coastline defense while strikers fought their way inland toward Townsend to drop their ordnance.
“This setup is very unique on the east coast,” says Colonel Thomas “Gasket” Grabowski, ADC Commander. “We have brand new mission planning facilities, superb airspace, and outstanding support of the local community, so it is very conducive to fighter training. We have Marines flying from MCAS Beaufort, and our ANG neighbors [SCANG and FANG] are also playing, so it’s both a joint and total force effort.”
The exercise was not without challenges, as launching and recovering several dozen fighters out of the busy civilian Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport makes aircraft deconfliction a top priority.
“It’s an orchestrated ballet to release these aircraft and recover them safely, and we couldn’t do that without the help of the local Air Traffic Control agencies,” says Colonel Grabowski.
Sentry Savannah was also supported by various other government agencies, including the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Jacksonville (FACSFAC JAX), which owns the exercise airspace. Once in the airspace, command and control for 15-1 was provided by the Georgia Air National Guard’s 117th Air Control Squadron (ACS) at Hunter Army Airfield, just across town. The 117th ACS deployed to the ADC and was augmented by personnel from other units across the country.
“Our job is to give the big picture to the combat aircraft,” says Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Baker, the 117th ACS Director of Operations. “We give the fighters the information they need to find, identify, and target and engage the right opposing force aircraft.”
Incorporating different command & control elements adds a level of flexibility and training difficult to rival among major exercises. According to Major Baroni, US Navy AEGIS-equipped guided missile cruisers will participate in the May exercise and feed information to F-15s and F-22s.
Given the abundance of military bases dotting the eastern seaboard of the United States, the ADC at Savannah is poised to take advantage of incorporating an exceptional amount and variety of assets – be they land, sea, or airborne – into the Sentry exercises. Aside from hosting the Sentry Savannah exercises, the ADC also plays host to a number of individual units throughout the year that are seeking to take advantage of the vast resources that the ADC has to offer.
In 2011, F-22 Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB were temporarily displaced due a runway closure at their home station, and they became the first 5th generation unit to deploy to an Air National Guard CRTC facility. It was this deployment the spurred the CRTC-turned-ADC into action, hosting both large exercises and individual units for specialized training. Even without an official Sentry Savannah exercise taking place, the ADC calendar stays full for most of the year with units that seek out the quality training environment that the ADC has to offer.
“We are a year-round, 365-day operation here, and it benefits the local units as well when someone deploys to the ADC. By and large, all the fighter units at nearby bases such as Beaufort, Shaw, McEntire, Jacksonville, and even Moody… are all desperate for something other than flying against themselves,” Baroni offers.
The units that deploy to the ADC are able to do so for a very low cost, and Sentry Savannah helps make the most out of the inherent capability of the ADC facilities. While Captain Phillips says “we’re not going beyond the training demand… we don’t have the resources to do that. We seek to maximize the use the locally available assets to give our units the most efficient and cost-effective training.”
The ADC has quickly become a nexus for both local and deployed units and generates valuable training across the armed forces spectrum. Maintaining air supremacy is key to conducting any real-world operation, and assets such as the Air Dominance Center become increasingly vital to sustaining a capable fighter force. Large Force Employment (LFE) and Fighter Integration (FI) exercises are of paramount importance, but you can’t hold these exercises just anywhere. Savannah is uniquely positioned to help the U.S. validate its doctrine of air dominance and foster joint interoperability among the armed forces.
Two more Sentry Savannah exercises are planned for the remainder of this year and four for next year, which is indicative of the benefits and cost-effectiveness of utilizing Savannah’s Air Dominance Center.
The author would like to thank the following personnel for their support during Sentry Savannah 15-1: General Thomas Moore, GA TAG; Colonel Thomas Grabowski ADC/CC; Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Rachael ADC/OG/CC; Major Merrick Baroni ADC/DO; Captain Brian Phillips; Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Baker 117ACS/DO; Lieutenant Colonel DJ Spisso, NGB; Master Sergeant George Burnsed 165AW/PA, Senior Master Sergeant Judd Martins, Master Sergeant Jon LaDue; and Technical Sergeant Chris Helton, 165AW. ~JD