Air battle managers support Exercise Antler South

News Article / December 28, 2018

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By Lieutenant Kevin Hall

Flying at speeds often exceeding 800 km/h and with limited situational awareness, fighter pilots rely on air battle managers (ABMs) to guide them in accomplishing their mission. With access to extensive radar arrays, modern command and control systems, and a multitude of radios, ABMs are essential in ensuring that fighter jets are employed effectively and successfully in the defence of Canada and of Canada’s interests abroad.

Considered the “third wingman,” an ABM can see a much bigger picture than the pilots in the jets, and so can provide safety and mission-related point-outs critical for mission success. ABMs also provide a link between higher levels of command and the tactical employment of the fighter jets.

What does it take to become an RCAF air battle manager?

As a subset of the aerospace control officer trade, ABMs study for about three months in Cornwall, Ontario, in their first phase of training. There, they learn the basics of controlling aircraft and, specifically, they learn how to provide tactical control to fighter aircraft in simulated air-to-air combat. The trainee ABMs also have to manage air-to-air refuelling and air defence scenarios in a NORAD context. Learning about the intricacies of command and control, and particularly where the ABM fits in the larger picture of air defence authority in Canada, is central to the course and is developed in their next phase of training.

Graduating from Cornwall, ABM trainees’ next learning environment is at 22 Wing/Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay, Ontario, where they continue their training at the Canadian Air Defence Sector (CADS). Over a period of five months, the ABM trainees will learn how to operate within a weapons section team under the direction of a Senior Director (SD) and how to work with a weapons assistant (WA). Learning to control at CADS is a major stepping stone for the fledgling ABMs because they learn that controlling fighter jets is always a team effort, especially when it comes to defending Canada and the United States from unknown or potential airborne threats.

419 Squadron trains during Exercise Antler South

Flying CT-155 Hawks, 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron trains Canadian and NATO allies in basic fighter tactics. This jet trainer is not equipped with a radar, so it is imperative that an ABM guides and directs them when performing air-to-air intercepts.

In October 2018, 419 Squadron flew their seven Hawks to El Centro, California, to conduct training because October weather at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, is historically not ideal for fighter training. For their deployment, they took CAE Inc. engineers, as well as other support personnel. Among the personnel were two ABMs from CADS, Lieutenant Dani Mansour and I, both from 21 Aerospace Control & Warning Squadron at 22 Wing.

Over the course of three weeks, we provided essential tactical support for more than 20 air combat missions. Primarily, we ensured the jets knew where they were in relation to their targets, which enabled them to intercept and dogfight their adversary at speeds exceeding 500km/h. We also provided invaluable safety point-outs to traffic transiting near the training area, something of particular concern because the airspace was near air traffic routes.

One of the perks of working so closely with a fighter squadron over a period of a few weeks is the bonds that develop. The control we provided was so essential and appreciated by the fighter pilots that they ensured that each of us got to fly in the back seat of one of the jets during a mission. This exciting opportunity gave us a rare glimpse into what it’s like to fly and to fight in the sky. More importantly, it put into perspective just how important our work is. Without an onboard radar, the only thing guiding the fast-moving jet through the vast open sky towards its target was the voice on the end of the radio.

The ABM, sitting at a control facility far away, staring at a radar screen, was the person with, by far, the most awareness on what was going on. At the end of the day, flying with 419 Squadron showed us how critical a role the ABM plays in the successful completion of the air combat mission. The ABM truly deserves the title of “third wingman”.

Lieutenant Kevin Hall is with 21 Aerospace Control & Warning Squadron


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