Spangdahlem AB Avionics Flight gets vital system back in the sky

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Marcus Hardy-Bannerman
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Year after year, it sat unmoved, unused, inoperable in the back of the workshop.

It once possessed a sleek, matte gray frame, but years of inactivity had dulled the color with a thick layer of dust. Missing panels exposed the broken wiring and empty cavities where large components used to live. For all intents and purposes, it was nothing more than an in-house junkyard, a point from which Airmen could salvage the occasional component. 

As a system for detecting and countering enemy radar threats such as surface-to-air missile sites and anti-aircraft guns, the AN/ALQ-131 electronic countermeasures (ECM) pod is a vital system for the 52nd Fighter Wing.

Relegated to the status of antique since November 2012, this once highly specialized, invaluable system seemed to be getting farther and farther from returning to the fleet. 

However, a team of Airmen from the 52nd Maintenance Squadron Avionics Flight’s Electronic Warfare Section and Air Force Repair Enhancement Program had a different vision in mind.

After months of work and over 500 tests, the team was able to return this life-saving equipment to fully mission capable status. However, the project had some challenges.

“The difficulty with rebuilding a pod that has been awaiting parts for nine years starts with sourcing assets,” said Staff Sgt. Caleb Bowman, 52nd MXS electronic warfare technician. “Due to the age of the pod, many of the parts are no longer in production without any planned contracts.”

After a year of working with other bases to procure and trade for components, Bowman and his team began working on the pod in June 2021 with the arrival of the final part. Despite all the roadblocks before them, it was all in a day's work for the Airmen of the 52nd MXS Avionics Flight.

For some, seeing their contribution to the mission might not be so clear cut, but the members of the avionics flight do not have that issue. They know how important the pods they maintain are to the mission. 

“It uses state-of-the-art technology to successfully protect aircrews and aircraft in every conflict since becoming operational,” said Tech. Sgt. Isaias Garcia, 52nd MXS Avionics Flight assistant flight chief. “Our pods save lives!”

This especially rings true at Spangdahlem Air Base because of the 52nd FW’s suppression of enemy air defense mission. This mission is carried out by the 52nd FW’s very own 480th Fighter Squadron, the only SEAD squadron in the United States European Command. 

Having a specialized unit such as the 480th FS within the heart of Europe is essential to maintaining NATO’s defense posture within the region and building trust among Allies and Partner nations.

Spangdahlem AB’s forward presence in Europe is critical to assuring the defense of NATO Allies and ensuring support to global operations. The 52nd MXS Avionics Flight’s work directly supports this mission, keeping the 52nd FW aircraft ready to safeguard the freedom and security of all NATO members