CDR Fletcher, CO of Airborne Command and Control Squadron, VAW 121

By Robbin Laird

In this interview I discussed with the CO of VAW 121 about the way ahead with coming of air refuelability for the squadron’s Advanced Hawkeyes. I was able to do so after CDR Fletcher had spent a good part of his early day on October 21, 2020 talking with reporters about the anniversary of the first launch of the Hawkeye.

That 60th Anniversary of the first E-2 flight was highlighted in a discussion between the Commander of the Naval Air Force Atlantic, Rear Admiral Meir and the current Commander of the Airborne Command and Control Logistics Wing, Captain Michael France.

That interview can be found here:

The advanced Hawkeye has joined the fleet as the fleet is undergoing significant change to focus on the high-end fight, and to deliver capabilities to an evolving process of integratability., With the extended range with air refueling of the Advanced Hawkeye plus the coming of the MQ-25 to the large deck carrier to do that air refueling mission, the contribution of the aircraft will be enhanced for the fleet operating in the extended battlespace.

CDR Fletcher highlighted the importance of this new capability for the aircraft. “We should receive our first AR aircraft shortly. We will be the second squadron to complete the AR transition. By next year we will be fully transitioned as an AR squadron.

“This will give us more time on station and increase our range. We have always been focused on the carrier strike group, but throughout my career we have supported the joint flight, but this capability will enhance our contribution.”

“We’ve always been an integratable asset, but the AR will make us just that much more capable of give us that much more on station time.”

With the new advanced Hawkeye there is more capability in the aircraft to integrate with the mission.  He noted that even though the aircraft looks much like its predecessor, “the advanced in technology with the digital generation, allows us to pack a lot more capability within the aircraft, but allows us to work differently in the battlespace as well.”

There has been an important branding change which reflects the shift as well. They are now an airborne command and control squadron, rather than being labelled an airborne early warning squadron.

As CDR Fletcher put it: “That branding change is purposeful; it is an evolution incorporating technological advances which enable us to be more interconnected, and more integratable.  Much like we are more interconnected as the internet has changed all of our lives, its doing the same for naval aviation and the military more generally.”

One can accept the evolution point, but integratability is posing a significant shift as well. Certainly, for the weapons officers in the back of the aircraft, the challenge now is to manage a much wider range of data sources to shape C2 information flows as well. As the navy evolves its concepts of operations to distributed maritime operations, certainly the capabilities in AR advanced Hawkeye will become even more important for the air wing of the future, or as I prefer to call it, the integratable air wing.

Featured Photo: Cmdr. Martin Fentress Jr., commanding officer, Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 121, is relieved by Cmdr. Neil Fletcher during a change of command ceremony onboard Naval Station Norfolk, Sept. 3. Fentress served as VAW-121’s commanding officer since 2018. Credit: MC3 Samantha Jenkins