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Misawa maintainers innovate new parts for ECM pods, reachieve 98% mission standard rate

Serviceable pod check

Airmen with the 35th Maintenance Squadron avionics flight, inspect and rebuild an awaiting part pod at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 20, 2019. The ALQ-184 pod intercepts radar signals from aircraft and missile sites and is used to support the suppression of enemy air defenses mission by increasing reception range, reducing countermeasure response time and improving reliability.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

Backplane continuity

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Dwayne Patterson, a 35th Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare journeyman, checks the continuity of a backplane at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 20, 2019. This verifies the signal path for preventative maintenance inspection tests on a rebuilt pod. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

Connector inspection

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ryan Connor, a 35th Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare journeyman, inspects connectors on a coldplate at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 20, 2019. The system sends alerts to a pilot’s display, allowing them to choose different ways the pod can react to signals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

Heat exchanger inspection

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Chrisjian Yang, a 35th Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare journeyman, inspects a heat exchanger fin for foreign object debris at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 20, 2019. The ALQ-184 electronic countermeasure pod increases reception range, reduces countermeasure response time and improves reliability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

Hold screw tightening

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Carlos Sacarello Rivera, a 35th Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare team member, tightens a holding screw on a control connector at Misawa Air Base, Japan, March 20, 2019. The system sends alerts to a pilot’s display, allowing them to choose different ways the pod can react to signals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Xiomara M. Martinez)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --

The ALQ-184 electronic countermeasure pod is crucial in a pilot's decision-making loop; they send alerts to a pilot’s display which allows the pilots to choose different ways the pod can react to signals. For F-16 pilots assigned to the 35th Fighter Wing, they use this ECM pod to intercept radar signals from aircraft and missile sites as part of their suppression of enemy air defenses mission increasing reception range, reducing countermeasure response time and improving reliability.

When the availability of F-16 Fighting Falcon ECM pods dropped 10% below the 86% mission standard rate last year, the 35th Maintenance Squadron avionics flight decided they needed to do something drastic.

With an unusually high number of pods breaking and an unavailability of parts, the avionics flight had a lot of catching up to do, so they pulled together as a team and developed a plan to overcome their predicament.

Airman 1st Class Carlos Sacarello Rivera, 35th MXS electronic warfare team member, explained  the low supply required thinking about the problem in a different light.

“The lack of resources was a challenge,” said Sacarello Rivera. “With how rare the parts for these pods are, we hand-made the parts from in-shop supplies. The pod construction challenged the group to think above and beyond on a broader spectrum. The thought process required ingenuity--using tools not exactly meant for that certain application--but it worked for the new construction.”

Together, they thought outside-the-box and innovatively generated 137 serviceable pods from Aug. 2018 to March 2019, re-achieving a 98 percent fully mission-capable rate by fixing two broken status pods awaiting parts.

“The first pod we tackled took a total of one month to rebuild, test, troubleshoot and repair,” explained Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Young, 35th MXS electronic warfare systems production supervisor. “The flight challenged themselves to knock out the second pod in half the time of the first one.”

Not only did Airmen overcome challenges along the way but they also exceeded leadership's expectations.

“As a team, we are very proud of our achievement because the broken pods were down for more than two years,” Young said. “The guys definitely put in all the work and achieved the task, I’m super proud I was there for it.”

Capt. Brian Nagel, 35th MXS operations officer, said his team understands their importance to pilot survivability and the significance of the pod achievement. He believes his avionics Airmen really stepped up to the challenge, innovated with next-to-nothing and protected the wing's pilots with critical aircraft components.

"I am extremely pleased with the work the avionics personnel have accomplished," beamed Nagel. "This now ensures all pilots and aircraft have this counter capability at a moment’s notice."

Thanks to the hard work, long hours and innovative avionics Airmen, Misawa F-16s equipped with the pod remain the first to enter a combat theater to locate surface-to-air missile threats and clear a path for other military forces, ensuring the safety and security of the Indo-Pacific region.