USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, At Sea (NNS) -- In support of Exercise Valiant Shield, June 19-23, air-intercept controllers (AIC) stationed aboard USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) and other surface ships in the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Strike Group (ALCSG), directed air wing assets to intercept hostile aircraft in defense of the strike group.
Valiant Shield is the first time three carrier strike groups have operated together in the Pacific in more than a decade and adds an extra challenge for the AICs of ALCSG.
"We have to know where to turn aircraft off [of the contact] so that they do not run into each other," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael T. Koerner, combat systems officer aboard Mobile Bay.
"The situation requires constant monitoring to prevent a contact from slipping between two lines of coverage."
Once an aircraft being used for strike group defense has departed the ship and checked in with strike operations, the AIC takes over control of that aircraft, coordinating with the pilot to send him toward an air contact that needs investigation.
Koerner said that although Mobile Bay is the AIC for the ALCSG, every ship in the strike group has a watch station with at least four qualified AICs, including a senior controller, responsible for manning it.
Additionally, he said that the E-2C Hawkeyes of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 116, the "Sun Kings," also have an AIC station aboard the aircraft for the same purpose.
"For an alert launch, we will vector that aircraft. The aircraft will then stay under the control of whoever we (the AIC) designate that control to," Koerner said. "Normally it is us, but it can be another ship or even an aircraft."
The control of air space and the protection of the strike group through the management of air assets is more challenging for the AIC during Exercise Valiant Shield, said Koerner.
"With three carrier strike groups, the challenge becomes, 'How do I work with the other two AICs to make sure that the area that I am covering and the area that they are covering overlap so that there are no gaps?'" said Koerner.
Between each strike group's AICs, he said, "There will be a lot of give and take."
According to Ensign Todd Shaw, AIC officer aboard Mobile Bay, the volume of aircraft involved in Valiant Shield presents a challenge.
"It's a very complex exercise," said Shaw, gesturing toward the radar displays in Mobile Bay's combat direction center (CDC). "You can look at the screens and see that it looks like army ants - there are aircraft everywhere. These guys (AICs) make sense out of all that."
Shaw said that Mobile Bay was able to seamlessly integrate USS Decatur (DDG 73) and USS McCampbell (DDG 85) into the strike group and work with them "as if they'd been there all along." This also helps ensure effective control of ALCSG during Valiant Shield. Prior to this exercise, Decatur and McCampbell had not worked with ALCSG.
Valiant Shield 2006 exercised the U.S. military's ability to conduct robust, joint command and control operations, and rapidly bring together joint forces in response to any regional contingency. The exercise demonstrated the U.S. commitment to the Pacific region. Along with the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) strike groups are also participating in the event.
To learn more about Valiant Shield, visit the Web site at www.pacom.mil.
For related news, visit the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn72/.