Air Battle Manager

Air Battle Manager

Air Battle Manager is a rated flying position in the United States Air Force.


Since 1999, Air Battle Manager has been a rated career field. This means that ABMs are career aviators who receive flight pay and must actively fly a certain number of months (called gate months) to maintain their rating. As a result, all active duty ABMs and those assigned to the Air Force Reserve unit at Tinker AFB, OK are assigned to flying duties after completion of undergraduate training. In the past a small number of graduates were initially assigned to ground assignments in the CRCs but this practice ceased in 2004. ABMs serving in the Air National Guard are not necessarily assigned to flying units, but are typically assigned to a GTACS unit. As a result, they do not receive flight pay or earn rated aviator wings. Only ABMs who have completed follow-on training for the E-3 or E-8 are awarded wings to wear on their uniforms.


Undergraduate Air Battle Manager Training (UABMT) for the active US Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve is conducted by the 325th Air Control Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. From there, active duty officers are sent for additional training at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma (for the E-3) or Robins AFB, Georgia (for the E-8). A select few will be sent to Geilenkirchen AB, Germany to train on the NATO AWACS (E-3A.) Small numbers are also assigned to overseas assignments at either Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, AK, or Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan to fly on the E-3 once the follow on training at Tinker is completed. ABMs will receive their wings from Air Combat Command or from NATO once their flight training is completed. This is the only rated career field that receives its wing outside of AETC.


Air Battle Managers (ABMs) are primarily responsible for command and control.Their primary duty is to ensure the day to day air mission is executed. These duties depend on the overall military operation. For air to air engagement, using either airborne or land-based radars, ABMs ensure combat aircraft find, identify, and destroy their targets by providing the pilots with a "big picture" that increases their situational awareness. ABMs can provide early warning for inbound enemy aircraft and direct friendly assets to intercept them. As their title implies, ABMs control the air battlespace. To ensure the air mission is completed, ABMs aid the fight, they keep track of all the assets in the area of operations to ensure deconfliction, safety of flight for all friendly aircraft. Although ABMs do not -- and are not qualified to -- serve as air traffic controllers, their role in deconfliction and flight safety makes air traffic control the closest civilian analogue to the ABM's role. In a few cases where there was a lack of air traffic control services in a combat environment, Air Battle Managers have picked up this additional duty with commercial aircraft. ABMs are trained to control the fight and ensure mission execution, not the traffic pattern or solely deconfliction and flight safety. Additionally, ABMs plan, organize and task air combat operations. ABMs must be well versed in all combat aircraft systems and tactics; this includes U.S built aircraft and Foreign built aircraft as well as their respective munitions, and as well as ground based threats to aircraft as they may be assigned to work with any weapons system at any time. As a result, their expertise is often called upon in an advisory role by the Air Force's sister services or other allied military forces.

Duty Positions

There are different crew duty positions an Air Battle Manager may be qualified to perform during his career. On both the E-3 and E-8 they begin as an Airborne Weapons Officer (AWO), responsible for the direct control of weapons systems in the fight. This position also has several jobs that can be considered a position during a military operation,i.e. strike controller, OCA, DCA. From there, ABMs may upgrade to several different positions, depending on the platform they are serving on. Two positions common to all platforms are the Senior Director (SD), who directs the Weapons Section (consisting of Air Operations Technicians and AWOs), and the Mission Crew Commander (MCC), a senior ABM who controls the entire operations crew. ABMs in charge of the surveillance section are called Air Surveillance Officers (ASOs) on the E-3, or Sensor Management Officers (SMOs) on the E-8. ABMs may also serve as instructors and evaluators in whatever crew position qualification they maintain. With addition to their flying duties, ABMs also have office duties.


Air Battle Manager career paths typically place personnel on one of three platforms: AWACS, Joint STARS, or Control and Reporting Centers (CRCs). The first two involve flying positions on the E-3 Sentry or E-8 JSTARS, respectively. Both of these aircraft are highly modified Boeing 707 airframes equipped with long-range radars and other sensor systems. The E-3 typically supports air-to-air operations, while the E-8 JSTARS supports air-to-ground operations. CRCs are land-based mobile radar sites, part of the Ground Theater Air Control System (GTACS). ABMs may also serve in various staff positions at higher echelons.

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