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VORTAC: Kadena’s Beacon of Hope

A plane flies overhead of a crane and military personnel

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 18th Civil Engineering Squadron and U.S. Navy Sailors from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 place a new antenna on the Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range Tactical Air Control system at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. The VORTAC is a radio-based navigational aid for both civil and military aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

An Airman picks up wooden planks in front of an orange and white building

Airman 1st Class Samuel Stone, 18th Operation Support Squadron Radar Airfield and Weather Systems technician, picks up wooden planks at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. RAWS Airmen support Air Force operations by ensuring mission-essential equipment remains in operational condition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

Two military members pull wooden planks out from the back of a truck

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 18th Operations Support Squadron Radar Airfield and Weather Systems unit load materials onto a truck at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. RAWS Airmen support Air Force operations by ensuring mission-essential equipment remains in operational condition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

Marines stand to the right of a machine on wheels

U.S. Marines from Marine Air Control Squadron 4 Company Kilo provide a mobile Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range Tactical Air Control system at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. The VORTAC consists of two beacons that provide navigational aid to civil and military aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

A marine laughs in between the sides of a machine

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brandon Meyer, Marine Air Control Squadron 4 navigational aid technician, looks at a mobile Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range Tactical Air Control system at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. The VORTAC consists of two beacons that provide navigational aid to civil and military aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

Some marines stand around a machine on wheels next to a radar tower.

U.S. Marines from Marine Air Control Squadron 4 Company Kilo provide a mobile Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range Tactical Air Control system at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. The VORTAC consists of two beacons that provide navigational aid to civil and military aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

3 military members and a civilian in hard hats wait to work on the installation of an antenna

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 18th Operations Support Squadron Radar Airfield and Weather Systems Unit prepare to replace an antenna at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. RAWS Airmen are responsible for maintaining radars, airfield communications, weather equipment and navigational aids. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

A male and female sailor give directions to a crane

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Vincent Crosby, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 crane mechanic, left, and Seaman Jessica Riveraguevara, NMCB 5 crane rigger, direct a crane operator to lift an antenna at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. The antenna was an upgrade to the Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range Tactical Air Control system, a unit consisting of two beacons that provide navigational aid to civil and military aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

A cloud passes over a newly installed antenna

U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 18th Civil Engineering Squadron and U.S. Navy Sailors from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 place a new antenna on the Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range Tactical Air Control system at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. The VORTAC consists of two beacons that provide navigational aid to civil and military aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

An antenna and crane truck sit next to each other in the middle of the flight line grass.
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U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 18th Civil Engineering Squadron and U.S. Navy Sailors from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 prepare to place a new antenna on the Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range Tactical Air Control system at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021. The VORTAC consists of two beacons that provide navigational aid to civil and military aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Moses Taylor)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

 

The 18th Operations Support Squadron made history during one of Kadena’s most important projects of 2021. Airmen from the 18th OSS Radar, Airfield and Weather Systems upgraded their Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range and Tactical Air Navigation Systems beacon at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 15, 2021.

The VORTAC consists of two sectors in a centralized hub that provides navigational aid to aircraft. One sector is for civilian aircraft, known as the VOR, and a second sector for military aircraft, known as TACAN.

The hub provides information to the aircraft that ensures safe navigation and precise landing, which in turn keeps the mission running smoothly.

“It is really important because we have fighter jets here,” said Staff Sgt. Whitney LaVire, 18th OSS RAWS supervisor. “Fighter jets need the TACAN to navigate.” 

In 2015, the Air Force mandated an upgrade to all VORTAC systems across the Air Force. Over time, the older equipment has become less reliable and more prone to issues, whereas the newer equipment provides better performance. 

“The old TACAN system is not very reliable, and since the Air Force was replacing it, they no longer supply the necessary parts,” LaVire said. “So, if something breaks, there’s no guarantee we can fix it.” 

During the upgrade, the internal components of the VORTAC were all replaced along with the antenna on top. Usually, this would interrupt flying operations, but with the help of Marine Air Control Squadron 4, a mobile TACAN was set up to provide navigational aid while the U.S. Navy also contributed by providing a crane and Sailors from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5.

“The RAWS team here at Kadena were able to talk to the Marines from Futenma MACS-4 and see if they could provide a mobile system that would provide coverage for the lapse between the old and new system,” said 1st Lt. Veniece Gomez, 18th OSS airfield operations officer. “That provided coverage for all our mission operations that we do here at Kadena with the fighter aircraft. 

This was a historical moment for the military, as this was the first time the mobile AN/TRN-47(V)2 TACAN technology was used in Japan. 

“It's a new system throughout all of the DoD, so before our project came, they didn't even have authorization to use it in Japan,” said LaVire. “We worked with the [Japan Air Self-Defense Force] and the [Pacific Air Forces] to get that system approved in Japan, and then they were able to deploy it for the first time ever.” 

Senior Master Sgt. Albert Foley, 18th OSS RAWS Superintendent credited the Marines being an essential part of the project, providing instrumental support to Kadena’s mission. 

“There were a lot of uncertainties with this project,” he said. “So having that TACAN piece here with the Marines really helped propel this project forward.” 

The collective efforts of all units involved allowed Kadena Air Base, the keystone of the Pacific, to continue supporting the Air Force mission without delay.