The 552d Air Control Wing (552 ACW) is an operational wing of the United States Air Force based at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The wing flies the E-3 Sentry, and is currently commanded by Colonel Patricia D. Hoffman.
On 1 July 1974, the Air Force redesignated the 552d Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing as the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Group. It was inactivated on 30 April 1976.
On 5 May 1976, the inactivation lasted less than a week however, as the Air Force again activated the unit and redesignated it as the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Wing (AWACW). On 1 July 1976, the 552 AWACW relocated to Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. The 552 AWACW reported directly to Headquarters, Tactical Air Command (TAC).
On 1 October 1983, the 552 AWACW's missions and composition expanded so dramatically that the Air Force elevated the unit to division status and redesignating it as the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Division.
On 1 April 1985, TAC again redesignated the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Division and returned it to Wing status.
In October 1991, Tactical Air Command once more redesignated the 552d Airborne Warning and Control Wing, this time naming it the 552d Air Control Wing (ACW).
On March 23, 1977, the first E3 arrived at Tinker Air Force Base. Its arrival ushered in and heralded a new philosophy in airborne combat and forever changed the concept of airborne battle management. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, E-3s, aircrews and support personnel from the 552nd Air Control Wing participated in deployments to Saudi Arabia (March 1979) in light of an on-going border dispute between North and South Yemen; to South Korea (October 1979) following the assassination of President Park Chung Hee; and the European theater (December 1979) to conduct joint training operations in Central Europe and the Mediterranean region in support of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet and allied forces.
In early 1979, the wing assumed a commitment to support the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Today wing crews still stand ready to fly daily on short notice to the borders of the United States and Canada providing additional radar coverage required in defense of the North American continent.
In September 1980, the wing again deployed E-3s, aircrew and support personnel to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation “Elf One (Extended Long-Range Force)” to provide “round-the-clock” airborne radar coverage, and to enhance Saudi Arabian air defenses during the dispute between Iran and Iraq. Support of “ELF One” continued for 8.5 years.
Throughout the remainder of the 1980s, E3s, aircrew and support personnel were deployed to: Ramstein Air Base, West Germany to participate in joint training w/elements of the NATO air defense network (December 1980); to Egypt following the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (October 1981); to Grenada (November 1983) to support Operation Urgent Fury; and in support of Operation Just Cause (December 1989). Operation Just Cause was designed to liberate the people of Panama from the grip of dictator and drug-trafficker Manuel Antonio Noriega.
Also in accordance with President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive in 1986 to further expand its counter narcotic operations, the wing marked the beginning of its’ intense anti-drug commitment. Within six months, the wing had assisted in 13 arrests and the seizure of 3,200 pounds of illegal drugs. Other milestones during the 1980s included delivery of the wing’s 25th E-3 in December 1981, which brought a new updated version of the Airborne Warning and Control System, called the U.S./NATO standard, and the wing’s redesignation to the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Division in October 1983. The division was again redesignated a wing, becoming a subordinate unit of the newly activated 28th Air Division in April 1985. In January 1990, the wing deployed personnel and several E-3s to Roosevelt Roads NAS, located near San Juan, Puerto Rico in response to the expanded drug interdiction missions assigned to the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing. This deployment, known as Agate Path, established a forward operating base for counter narcotic operations in the Central American region.
In August 1990, following the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces, the wing began its deployment of E-3s and personnel to Saudi Arabia and Turkey in support of Operations Desert Shield and Proven Force, respectively. On January 16, 1991, E-3 support packages of the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing executed airborne control over several of the initial strikes on Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. Beginning on January 17, 1991, both deployed forces played a prominent role in the successful execution of Operation Desert Storm. The E-3 aircraft and aircrews flew a total of 7,314.7 combat hours during Desert Storm and controlled 20,401 air refueling sorties with tankers off-loading more than 178 million gallons of gas to 60,543 receivers.
In March 1991, after the Gulf War, the wing remained in the Persian Gulf region. Wing personnel and aircraft in Southwest Asia continued a post-war surveillance role, while wing assets in Turkey continued to provide surveillance support for Operation Provide Comfort, the protection of Kurdish refugees.
In October 1991, the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing was again redesignated the 552nd Air Control Wing. In May 1992, the 28th Air Division was inactivated and the 552nd Air Control Wing was reorganized.
During 1993, the 552nd Air Control Wing continued its worldwide force protection mission in support of Operations Provide Comfort and Southern Watch in Southwest Asia. In January, a 552nd Air Control Wing E-3 flying a “Southern Watch” mission over the Persian Gulf region, guided an air strike against Iraqi ground targets in response to Iraqi violations of United Nations resolutions. Four days later, a wing E-3 guided a United States Air Force F-16 in the interception and destruction of an Iraqi MiG-29. This attack sequence followed a violation of the United Nations’ imposed “no-fly” zone over Northern Iraq.
In July 1993, the 552nd Air Control Wing ended its short tenure with the Second Air Force and came under the Twelfth Air Force. In September 1994, the wing flew 23 missions over Haiti in support of Operation Uphold Democracy from forward operating locations and Tinker AFB. This operation, directed by President Bill Clinton, ousted military leaders to return the duly-elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, into power.
In October 1995, the first E-3 AWACS aircraft (tail number 80-0137) to receive the Block 30/35 upgrade rolled out at Tinker Air Force Base. The Block 30/35 comprised the single largest upgrade to the E-3 aircraft ever accomplished. Block 30/35 affected four major subsystems aboard the E-3 aircraft including integration of Joint Tactical Information Distribution Systems, Global Position System, Electronic Support Measures System, and Data Analysis Program Group.
In July 1996, the Air Force Reserve activated the 513th Air Control Group. The 513th Air Control Group worked in conjunction with the 552nd Air Control Wing and the host reserve unit at Tinker — the 507th Air Refueling Wing. This activation would have a significant impact on the wing’s ability to support its mission and improve quality of life for the members of the wing, by reducing the number of temporary duty days the members would endure each year. The 513th’s mission would parallel that of the 552nd Air Control Wing. The 552nd Air Control Wing would maintain actual “ownership” of the E-3 aircraft, but would allow the reservists to assist in the maintenance of the aircraft and fly actual missions with the E-3s.
In February 1998, the wing deployed more than 100 additional personnel in response to a buildup in Southwest Asia. Four months later, troops returned as a result of the reduction of forces directed by President Bill Clinton.
In mid-November 1998, wing members were deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Desert Thunder. This operation was in response to United Nations weapons inspectors being expelled from Iraq. One month later, members of the wing once again deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Desert Fox which was also in response to United Nations weapons inspectors being expelled from Iraq, as well as the increase in “no-fly” zone violations.
In March 1999, the commander of the European Command requested that the 552nd Air Control Wing adjust forces in the European theater in support of Operation Allied Force, NATO’s response to the crisis in Kosovo. Again in April, the wing received a request for additional crews and aircraft in support of Operation Allied Force. Also during the spring of 1999, the wing began to see the results of the Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP); the first AWACS E-3 aircraft to go through RSIP rolled out of the hangar. RSIP is a joint U.S./NATO development program involving a major hardware and software intensive modification to the existing radar system. Installation of RSIP enhances the operational capability of the E-3 radar electronic counter-countermeasures, and dramatically improves system reliability, maintainability, and availability. In February 2001, the 552nd Air Control Wing saw the final flight of an E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System’s Block 20/25 aircraft (tail #75-0557). In September 2001, the wing saw completion of the Block 30/35 upgrade when that same aircraft rolled out of depot maintenance.
During March 2001, in an effort to bring the 552nd Air Control Wing in alignment with the needs of the Expeditionary Aerospace Force, the 960th Airborne Warning and Control Squadron was reactivated and redesignated as the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron.
On June 14, 2001, the RSIP program reached a major milestone. After more than 10 years and the efforts of hundreds of people to develop, test, produce and field the RSIP capability, Gen. John P. Jumper, Air Combat Command commander, approved the designation of, “Initial Operational Capability,” (IOC) of the program.
Another major development in the history of AWACS occurred on September 11, 2001, with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The 552nd was one of the first units to be tasked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to protect the airspace over North America as part of Operation Noble Eagle (ONE). Within hours, AWACS was patrolling the skies over North America in homeland defense. Round-the-clock patrols continued until the Spring of 2002. By late September, the wing was also supporting the war on terrorism. On September 27, 2001, E-3 aircraft and AWACS personnel were deployed to a forward location in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Also by late September, in addition to AWACS’ worldwide taskings increasing, its number of people increased with the activation of 231 members of the 513th Air Control Group, the E-3 associate reserve unit. Both aircrew and support personnel in the 513th seamlessly integrated into operations.
Never in the 52-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has the alliance been used to defend the United States, but all that changed on October 9, 2001, when the first of five NATO E-3s and a detachment of more than 180 personnel began arriving at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., in support of Operation Eagle Assist. This action was one of eight measures taken by NATO in its first execution of Article 5 of the 1949 Washington Treaty that created NATO. Article 5 states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
By the following May, U.S. AWACS had flown more than 590 ONE missions, totaling nearly 7,100 flying hours in support of homeland defense operations. NATO AWACS had also flown approximately 380 ONE missions, totaling nearly 4,300 flying hours in support of Operation Eagle Assist, NATO’s support of Operation Noble Eagle. May 16, 2002 marked the end of Operation Eagle Assist, NATO’s support of Operation Noble Eagle. NATO E-3s and personnel returned to their home station; however, the 552nd Air Control Wing still supports ONE.
Thanksgiving of 2002 brought another first as a single Airborne Air Control Squadron deployed to Thumrait Air Base, Oman as the sole AACS supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. In January 2003, 5 E-3s, aircrew, and associated support personnel and equipment redeployed from Thumrait, Oman to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia to join the largest deployment of AWACS aircraft, personnel and equipment in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
April 2003 marked the beginning of the return of the wing from Prince Sultan Air Base and by June all 552nd Air Control Wing aircraft, personnel, and equipment were at home station. This marked the first-ever period of reconstitution for the wing. After almost 18 months of being at home, the wing re-entered the war on drugs with a deployment of aircraft, personnel and equipment to Manta, Ecuador.
On 8 July, 2005, the 552nd Air Control Wing celebrated 50 years of service to the nation. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the wing flew 16 contingency management missions totaling over 158 hours in 8 days. The wing again performed in a humanitarian aid capacity following Hurricane Rita, flying 14 missions totaling over 117 hours. In March 2007 the wing returned to the Middle East flying missions in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. The wing operates the world’s premier battle management platform and will continue to support our nation in that capacity well into the next century.
Originally approved for the 552d Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing on Feb. 6, 1956. On the original emblem, the Latin words "Robur Ex Vigilantia," meaning "In Vigilance is Strength," were below the shield as the wing's motto. For today's emblem, the words were replaced with "552d Air Control Wing" and approved on Oct. 27, 1994.
The eight-pointed star represents a mariner’s compass and is symbolic of the wing’s surveillance capabilities. The light blue represents the skies where the wing operates. The Air Force yellow band stands for the Air Force, while the lightning bolts symbolize the electronic equipment that supports the wing’s mission. The black-winged battlements depicts the mission of the unit: guard the nation’s borders with air power.