Two teams on the same field: JSTARS plans and programs lives total force integration

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Josiah Meece
  • 116th Air Control Wing

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – In most sports, there are two ways a team can play, either offensively or defensively. The Team JSTARS Plans and Programs office, also known as XP, does both simultaneously.

The Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing XP, and active-duty 461st ACW XP, play on one total force integration team, for one Joint STARS mission, following their vision statement of being the office of “yes.” This means no matter the problem, they will find a solution for it.

XP ’s playing field has the programs side acting as the offensive line-up and the plans side as the defensive line. The programs side actively pursues the solutions to requirements while the plans side develops contingencies for any possible events.

“XP is a real team effort,” said Master Sgt. Hugh Hermes, superintendent of the 461st ACW XP. “The 116th and the 461st are in lock-step together.”

The programs side is essentially the warfighter’s resource for acquiring hardware and software for the E-8C Joint STARS, according to Lt. Col. Ben Stallard, director of the 461st ACW XP office.

They work with personnel from the operations and maintenance groups to ensure the aircraft and people have the solutions they need for the mission. XP is essentially the conduit between the warfighter’s mission needs, industry partners, and those who acquire the solutions.

They are the warfighter requirements developer, initiating the warfighter’s hardware and software requirements to the major commands for sourcing of funding, prioritization, and acquisition, according to Stallard.

“In order to stay in the fight, we need to keep upgrading our programs,” said Mark Valdez, deputy director with the 461st ACW XP. “We have to stay viable to the warfighter.”

To close the loop, the programs section also works with operators and maintainers to field the new hardware or software to make sure they have the training and spare parts to integrate the solution into JSTARS operations.

“There is a lot of coordination this office does both within the wings and outside them,” said Kevin Lechner, program manager with the 461st ACW XP. “We are there from start to finish, from the requirement to fielding.”

The JSTARS aircraft central computer system was updated recently because of XP’s work.

This more modern system processes data faster. The upgrades allow personnel to get more jobs done faster and more efficiently on the jet, according to Master Sgt. Capri Komprood, noncommissioned officer in charge of mission systems of 461st XP.

Unlike most XP offices, the 116th and 461st ACW XP offices have a more involved programs side — something that is not as common throughout the Air Force, according to Hermes.

The defensive lineup, the plans section, deals with emergency responses, deployment allocations, and operational security.

“The plans side of things is more focused on contingency planning,” said Stallard. “They are your first and best resource for when a crisis kicks off.”

The plans side is responsible for updating both wings’ contingency plans while coordinating with the Robins Air Force Base host unit, the 78th Air Base Wing.

These contingency plans are a playbook for unplanned events, such as natural disasters, aircraft incidents, and domestic operations. They include checklists for what to do in such cases. With these, Team JSTARS members can be on the same page, and respond collectively in case of an emergency.

There is even a plan for events not covered on a checklist.
“In some cases, there will be a temporary relocation of assets so operations can continue as normal,” said Maj. Brandon Coleman, chief of 461st ACW Plans.

“We are considered the crisis action team for any number of emergency responses,” said Lt. Col. Wendell Noble Jr., director of the 116th ACW XP. “We’ll coordinate with the host base, Robins, and work with the 78th CAT; and we’ll coordinate with the state for the Guard side.”

The plans side isn’t just concerned with emergencies; it has a role in deploying personnel and aircraft, as well.

When a major command requests JSTARS presence, XP will send them JSTARS availability. That response goes up to the Secretary of Defense, who decides when and where Team JSTARS will be sent.

Operational security, or OPSEC, is another essential part of the plans side of XP.

Due to the nature of JSTARS missions — providing commanders with surveillance, joint combat control, and battle management — OPSEC is an important factor, according to Coleman.

“Operational security plays a role in everything we do, from how we get to work, mission planning, and how we are flying the jet,” said Coleman. “OPSEC never stops.”

No matter what responsibility XP is handling, this unique office helps keep the planes updated, and everyone prepared in case of unforeseen events.

“XP is solution orientated for difficult problems, it’s planning for the uncertain, and it’s driven towards being an office of yes,” said Noble.