“You made the war,” Webb was told. “You gave us insane situational awareness.”
For those exploits, Webb and his crew will receive the Air Force Association’s Air Battle Management Crew of the Year award this September at AFA’s annual Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in National Harbor, Md.
Joint STARS crews, all located at Robins Air Force Base, have won the award a number of times, but the decision process likely was never more clear cut than this year.
“Our ability to find a target and engage it through detection and battle damage assessment and also command everything over a large area such as the country of Libya was indispensable,” Webb noted during an interview this week. “We went from U.S. control to NATO control with different command schemes, and there is really not a platform in the world other than us that can fill that role.”
Webb’s assessment is not bragging. It’s just fact. The system, based only at Robins, employs a Boeing 707 platform; a 24-foot, belly-mounted radar; and sophisticated on-board computers and communications gear to provide real-time, precise targeting information to airborne and ground units. Its 18-person mission crew can detect, identify and track moving ground targets over a 150-mile area.
The Joint STARS ability to track moving ground targets has been well established over the last 20 years. But it was the system’s command and control ability that leaped to the forefront over Libya.
Webb describes command and control as putting the right people in the right place to do the right thing while overcoming the fog and friction of war and the antics of the enemy. Joint STARS was very effective during the six-month conflict.
“We became the center of activity,” he said. “We controlled everything that flew over land. We basically controlled everything. If an aircraft went over land, we were talking to it.”
In effect, the Joint STARS aircraft orbiting over the Libyan landscape was a direct extension of the air operations center.
“We had the commander’s intent, so we knew what to execute,” Webb noted. Libya had very strict rules of engagement to prevent collateral damage and to reduce the possibility of unplanned impacts.
“So we relieved the AOC of a lot of tactical responsibility,” the mission crew commander stressed. “When we weren’t there for a few days (during the conflict), it was very hard for the AOC to do all of this. It slowed things down tremendously.”
Although Webb’s crew was hand-picked, he said any Joint STARS team would have performed well.
“The scenario played right into our training hands,” he indicated. “It played right into our strength – air to ground. That’s what we do and that was what the Libyan conflict was all about. It was a NATO coalition environment and we were very well respected.”
Webb and his team is preparing for the September award session. They are also in line for an Air Combat Command recognition as well. More to the point, the Libyan conflict validated the continuing need for Joint STARS.
“It was a very good experience if you can call a war a good experience,” he said. “It validated why Joint STARS is out there and showed the need for a command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset with our capability and capacity.”