Airmen assigned to the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron recognized 29 years of continuous service in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command’s area of responsibility during a ceremony at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar on Nov. 23, 2019. The ceremony provided the opportunity for 763 ERS Airmen to reflect on their contributions to the Air Force mission which began in preparation of OPERATION DESERT STORM and continues to this day. “10,699 days, 12,741 missions and more than 140,000 flying hours,” said Lt. Col. David Bonn, 763 ERS commander. “Moments like this give us cause to stop and look back.”
Known as the “Hunters”, the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron operates the RC-135 R/V Rivet Joint aircraft. Colloquially known as the “RJ,” the Rivet Joint is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform based off an extensively modified C-135. According to the Air Force fact sheet, the Rivet Joint hosts an extensive sensor suite to allow the crew to detect, identify and geolocate signals throughout the electromagnetic spectrum. The information can then be forwarded to customers, including combatant commanders, in a variety of formats using the Rivet Joint’s extensive communication capabilities.
The Rivet Joint’s mission in the Middle East began on Aug. 8, 1990 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to prepare for the international response to Iraqi aggression in the region. Soon after, initiation of the Instant Thunder air campaign during OPERATION DESERT STORM led to a revolution in modern airpower and joint military operations. Instant Thunder was the beginning of a rapid tactical and ISR integration.
“For many in the Combat Air Forces, it was our emergence from the intelligence shadows and entrance into a different, more tactical arena of operations,” stated Bonn. “Where once tactical mission commanders were blind, we could help them see. The outcomes speak for themselves.”
After OPERATION DESERT STORM, the 763 ERS continued their mission during OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH and OPERATION NORTHERN WATCH. During these campaigns, the RC-135 crews began to lay the groundwork for many technology acquisitions, collection strategies and tactical integration practices still utilized today. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the 763 ERS began preparing for a new fight against violent extremism. This required yet another shift in the Rivet Joint mission, pushing the ISR community to review and renew its processes.
“The quality and quantity of our execution didn’t get better overnight,” Bonn noted. “It was the result of hundreds of crews executing nearly around-the-clock missions for the last 18 years, executing endless feedback loops and getting better with every sortie.”
Most recently the Hunters of the 763 ERS leveraged their capabilities in the campaign to defeat ISIS. According to Bonn, not only was airpower the central force in all lines of effort to defeat ISIS, the effort was largely driven by intelligence and ISR professionals. And now, nearly three decades after the first RC-135 arrived in the AOR, the professionals of the 763 ERS stand ready to face the next challenge.
“Twenty-nine years later … 10,699 days later, it comes down to the Hunters standing here,” reflects Bonn. “You are legend. You honor the 20,000 Airmen that came before you and you set the path for the 20,000 Airmen that will come after you so they, too, can make history.”
Photo credits: Master Sgt. William Greer, Tech. Sgt. Ian Dean