Air battle manager (ABM) is a rated flying position in the United States Air Force.
Air battle manager has been a rated career field (Air Force Specialty Code 13BX) since October 1, 1999. This means that ABMs are career aviators who receive flight pay and must actively fly a certain number of months (called gate months) to maintain their rating. As a result, all active duty ABMs and those assigned to the Air Force Reserve unit at Tinker AFB, OK are assigned to flying duties after completion of undergraduate training. In the past a small number of graduates were initially assigned to ground assignments in the control and reporting centers (CRCs). This practice was temporarily ceased in 2004 but now occurs based on student merit and assignment availability. ABMs serving in the Air National Guard are typically assigned to a CRC unit, an air defense sector, or an air operations center (AOC). ABMs do receive flight pay and earn rated aviator wings though, at one time, were not awarded them at the completion of UABMT. Under the old system, only ABMs who had completed follow-on training for the E-3 or E-8 were awarded wings to wear on their uniforms. As of May 2010, a new training syllabus at Tyndall AFB allows ABMs to receive their wings at the conclusion of UABMT, finally bringing them in line with pilots and navigators. As of December 31, 2010, the Air Force Personnel Center reported that there are currently 1,434 ABMs serving on active duty.
Undergraduate air battle manager training (UABMT) for the active US Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve is conducted by the 337th Air Control Squadron under Eglin AFB, FL but remains at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Training at Tyndall is academically challenging from the start to the end, and the wash out rate varies from class to class. There are, at most, 12 officers that make up a class but the average is about 10. About one to three will never achieve combat mission ready status at their line squadron, either due to washing out of training at Tyndall or advanced training at their next base. By the time an individual finishes training, they acquire 15 credit hours towards a master's degree and on average nine credit hours will be recognized by a university as an elective course, e.g. University of Oklahoma. From there, active duty officers are sent for additional training at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma (for the E-3), Robins AFB, Georgia (for the E-8) or directly to a CRC. A select few will be sent to Geilenkirchen AB, Germany to train on the NATO AWACS (E-3A.) Small numbers are also assigned to overseas assignments at either Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, AK, or Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan to fly on the E-3 once the follow on training at Tinker is completed. In the past, ABMs received their wings from Air Combat Command or from NATO once their flight training was completed, making it the only line rated career field that received its wings outside of AETC. However, as of May 2010, a new training syllabus has begun. Aimed at overhauling the entire course, the new syllabus places significant emphasis on the aeronautical ratings that mission-ready ABMs currently enjoy. Subsequently, all ABM student (except Air National Guard Officers belonging to CRC and air defense units) under the new syllabus will receive their wings at the conclusion of UABMT at Tyndall. Students under the new syllabus will also receive flight pay while taking the course.
Air battle managers are primarily responsible for command and control and, what their title implies, battle management. Their primary duty is to ensure the day to day air mission is executed. These duties depend on the overall military operation. For air to air engagement, using either airborne or land-based radars, ABMs ensure combat aircraft find, identify, and destroy their targets by providing the pilots with a "big picture" that increases their situational awareness. ABMs can provide early warning for inbound enemy aircraft and direct friendly assets to intercept them. As their title implies, ABMs control the air battlespace. To ensure the air mission is completed, ABMs aid the fight, they keep track of all the assets in the area of operations to ensure de-confliction, safety of flight for all friendly aircraft, and expedite tactical mission execution. Although ABMs do not—and are not qualified to—serve as air traffic controllers, their role in de-confliction and flight safety makes air traffic control the closest civilian analogue to the ABM's role. Most if not all countries that have an ABM equivalent in their military also have ABMs be dual-qualified in civilian air traffic control. This is true in the Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force. In a few cases where there was a lack of air traffic control services in a combat environment, air battle managers have picked up this additional duty with commercial aircraft. ABMs are trained to control the fight, either air to air or air to ground, and ensure mission execution, not the traffic pattern or solely de-confliction and flight safety. Additionally, ABMs plan, organize and task air combat operations. ABMs must be well versed in all combat aircraft systems and tactics; this includes U.S built aircraft and foreign built aircraft as well as their respective munitions, and as well as ground based threats to aircraft as they may be assigned to work with any weapons system at any time. As a result, their expertise is often called upon in an advisory role by the Air Force's sister services or other allied military forces.
There are different crew duty positions an air battle manager may be qualified to perform during his career. On both the E-3, E-8 and in a CRC they begin as an airborne weapons officer (AWO), responsible for the direct control of weapons systems in the fight. This position also has several jobs that can be considered a position during a military operation,i.e. strike controller, OCA, DCA. From there, ABMs may upgrade to several different positions, depending on the platform they are serving on. Two positions common to all platforms are the senior director, who directs the weapons section (consisting of weapon directors and AWOs), and the mission crew commander, a senior ABM who controls the entire operations crew. ABMs in charge of the surveillance section are called air surveillance officers on the E-3, or sensor management officers on the E-8. The electronic combat officer, another upgrade position for AWOs,is only found on the AWACS platform and is in charge of operating certain sensors aboard the E-3 as well as infusing electronic war fare information and intelligence reports on and off the E-3 as well as expedite the F2T2EA process between strategic and tactical assets. ABMs may also serve as instructors and evaluators in whatever crew position qualification they maintain. With addition to their flying duties, ABMs also have office duties within their respective line squadron. This can be a flight scheduler, an officer in charge of a shop, or a flight commander in charge of flight operations of either 30 plus officers, 30 plus enlisted, or a mixture of both. At an air operations center, ABMs may be tasked to work in various departments to include operations or plans. When working in operations, ABMs may be tasked with various duties to include offensive operations duty officer, defensive operations duty officer, command and control duty officer, joint interface control officer, and liaison officer to name a few. Within plans, ABMs help plan future operations.
Air battle manager career paths typically place personnel on several platforms: AWACS, Joint STARS, control and reporting centers or air operations centers. The first two involve flying positions on the E-3 Sentry or E-8 JSTARS, respectively. Both of these aircraft are highly modified Boeing 707 airframes equipped with long-range radars and other sensor systems. The E-3 typically supports air-to-air operations, while the E-8 JSTARS supports air-to-ground operations. CRCs are land-based mobile radar sites, part of the Ground Theater Air Control System (GTACS). AOCs are the senior node of the Theater Air Control System. ABMs may also serve in various staff positions at higher echelons.
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