Seventeenth Air Force took another big step toward full operational capability Friday with the activation of the 617th Air and Space Operations Center.
The new AOC gives 17th AF, also known as Air Forces Africa, an increased command and control capability, integral to its function as the air component for U.S. Africa Command. Since 17th AF declared initial operational capability Oct. 1, 2008, command and control has been conducted by the Command and Control Center, or C2C – a precursor to the AOC.
Col. Andy Redmond, who led the C2C, became the 617th AOC commander during Friday’s activation. He said that while funding and resources are a challenge, the group of people running the new unit will make sure of its success.
“We are looking for ways to get what we need to make sure our capabilities are state of the art and that we have access to all the tools necessary to execute command and control of the air domain for U.S. Africa Command,” Colonel Redmond said. “We have an excellent group of people, and they’ve done a great job making our C2C run, and they’ll do a great job to make our Air and Space Operations Center run.”
The colonel said that while about 60 people are now on-station in the AOC, 17th AF officials expect to have about 130 on board around Oct. 1, when 17th AF is expected to declare full operational capability. The expanding team will not only execute overall command and control for 17th AF, but flight-following and support of U.S. air operations within the African area of activity. A combination of Air Force specialties comprises the center, including but not limited to command and control, communications and intelligence.
“We are building a complete air picture for Africa, which includes acquiring new systems, training and continuing to build on relationships with partner units,” Colonel Redmond said.
As Colonel Redmond’s AOC continues to build and expand in personnel and capacity, he said they will continue to rely on partners like the 603rd Air and Space Operations Center. The 603rd AOC has a similar role for 3rd Air Force under U.S. Air Forces in Europe and U.S. European Command. Before 17th AF stood up, they were also responsible for operations in Africa.
“The 603rd has been outstanding since 17th Air Force stood up last October, and we couldn’t have arrived where we are without their support,” Colonel Redmond said. He also lauded 17th AF leadership and the other leadership in the C2C for working together to on the execution and progression of command and control.
Superintendent Senior Master Sgt. Mike Topps, who also participated in the unfurling of the 617th AOC unit flag, received praise from the colonel for his leadership and hard work.
Maj. Gen. Ron Ladnier, 17th AF commander and presiding official at the activation, said support from senior leadership in USAFE and by both the former and current Air Force chiefs of staff has also been crucial.
“We really have to thank Gen. (Roger) Brady, Gen. (Michael) Mosley and Gen. (Norton) Schwartz for their support in building 17th Air Force,” General Ladnier said. “They really care about making us the best we can be.”
Colonel Redmond and his team at the 617th are focused on the same objective, the general added.
“We are very fortunate to have a leader like Colonel Redmond and a group of professionals who are focused on building a team of experts to make sure that we are providing U.S. Africa Command with complete expertise and robust support in the air domain,” General Ladnier said.
The 617th AOC is collocated with 17th AF headquarters at Ramstein.