The KINGPINs of the Coalition
21 December 2015
The unsung heroes of the Australian Air Task Group are the hard-working, no-fuss Air Combat Officers (ACO) and Air Surveillance Operators (ASOP) of the Royal Australian Air Force, who collectively are on their 18th rotation of forces to the region.
Specialising in Air Battle Management and embedded into the US Air Force 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, they are colloquially known as KINGPIN.
KINGPIN is made up of approximately 60 Coalition controllers; five of them are from the RAAF who are each serving six month deployments. Other controllers are from the Royal Air Force, US Air Force and US Marine Corps.
Flying Officer Andrew is one of the ACOs embedded with KINGPIN at the Air Task Group’s Main Air Operating Base in the Middle East Region.
He said KINGPIN provides command and control of the air space that the Coalition aircraft operate in – this air space is referred to as the "battlespace".
"KINGPIN's role is much like the E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft but operates from a static ground position rather than the air – 24 hours a day, seven days a week" Flying Officer Andrew said.
"KINGPIN uses real-time radar surveillance to coordinate the movement of all Coalition aircraft in their area of operation.
"The coordination can range from air-to-air refuelling, which enables aircraft to remain on task longer, to calling in the fast-jets to conduct a strike on a target identified by a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) on the ground."
Flying Officer Andrew explained the area of operations that KINGPIN controls is vast; not only are they controlling Coalition operations in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation OKRA, they are controlling the battlespace movement of aircraft involved in Afghanistan.
Additionally, they are controlling aircraft involved in the US's ongoing surveillance of the Gulf region.
On any given day KINGPIN facilitates air strikes and Intelligence Surveillance Recognisance missions conducted by Coalition nations, such as Australia, US, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, Netherlands, UK, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
"We relay messages between the Combined Air and Space Operations Centre and Coalition aircraft," Flying Officer Andrew said.
"This ensures that no matter where the aircraft are operating, the range of our radars and communication systems can reach any of our capabilities ensuring command and control is maintained."
Reflecting on his time to date in KINGPIN, Flying Officer Andrew said he felt fully prepared for his deployment.
He said in pre-deployment preparations they received three weeks of specific training in Australia as part of a Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRE).
"MRE replicates exactly what we do in the operational theatre," he said.
"Now we use our invaluable experience gained here and feed it back into the training and exercise environments at home."