147th ASOS, RC-26, Coast Guard work to perfect response capabilities

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy
  • 147th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs
Preparedness is key.

With the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane season underway, the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron tested their response capabilities in a joint hurricane response exercise with the wing's RC-26 aircraft and the U.S. Coast Guard's Eurocopter HH-65 Dauphin June 7, 2014, at Galveston State Park.

The squadron's Tactical Air Control Party members, which include Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, along with the use of the RC-26 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and the HH-65, were able to self-assess their combined ability to respond to post-storm recovery, evacuate victims and perform sling load operations to provide resupply to responders on the ground.

With the TACPs and JTACs' expeditionary expertise, the RC-26's ISR capabilities, and the inclusion of the Coast Guard, both elements of the operational team and the Coast Guard provided a critical component in emergency response.

"We proved that we can seamlessly speak with and work with our DOD partners to accomplish a potential prolonged search and rescue mission in the Houston area," said Coast Guard Lt. Jeremy Loeb, assistant operations officer and pilot. "As a helicopter crew, we also benefited from landing on unfamiliar and unimproved terrain and conducting external load operations. These are missions that we must constantly practice so we're ready to respond whenever we're called to do so."

TACPs have a broad range of skills that are applied in domestic response or in combat. The combat airmen are usually on the ground, tasked to advise Army ground commanders on the best use of air power to put bombs on target, in addition to air space de-confliction, establishing drop and landing zones, and setting up and maintaining radio communications.
However, in domestic response, they use those skills to save lives and provide support to those on the ground by establishing landing zones and pinpointing locations for aircraft to find victims or emergency responders needing assistance, resupply or evacuation.

"What I like about the JTACs, particularly the ones we work with at the 147th ASOS, is that they are elite problem solvers," Dowd said. "They are smart, resourceful, nimble and fit, and possess a well-trained, accomplished ability to use our platform as a tool to solve problems no matter how capable we are or what equipment we have working at their disposal."

With the implementation of the RC-26 in domestic response, it provides key leaders and decision makers with real-time, up-to-the-minute updates via a full motion video feed of the scene or disaster area to facilitate quick and decisive decision-making.

The TACPs, RC-26 aircraft, Army National Guard, Texas Task-Force 1 and the Texas Department of Public Safety employed their "eyes in the sky" capability earlier this year in a state, interagency search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake.
A success noted from that exercise included the use of the ISR aircraft to provide individuals working in the air operations center with the video feed in the simplest form through a basic Internet connection.

To build on their success at Canyon Lake to develop their combined response capabilities, the ASOS and RC-26 incorporated a JTAC rider.

The JTAC rider was able to speak to his own JTACs on the ground to take over the duties as air warden to de-conflict other aircraft in the airspace, proving to be a valuable addition by allowing the operators on the ground to be focused on the problem and not airspace de-confliction, Dowd said.

The inclusion of the Coast Guard helped them receive well-needed training and an opportunity to practice the skill sets necessary for emergency response.

"We enjoy the close partnership we at Air Station Houston have with the Texas Air National Guard's 147th ASOS," Loeb said. "We hope to never have to use this training, but we want to ensure we're at the top of our game should a storm approach the Gulf Coast and the Houston area."

Additionally, the exercise helped refine some of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for the TACPs and JTACs to be effective if called to respond to an emergency situation.

"I think it is important for us to develop efficiencies between the battlefield and the disaster area so that a military service member can provide viable, rewarding solution tools to the citizens of our homeland while reinforcing readiness since the end products are one in the same," Dowd said. "I envision an elite, self-contained manned, unmanned, ASOS triad in the 147th Reconnaissance Wing that is deployable anywhere - at home or abroad - at a moment's notice and able to get elite problem solvers on top of any problem to rapidly deliver our fellow Americans from harm."