VAW 126 History
Airborne Command & Control Squadron ONE TWO SIX (VAW-126), known as the Seahawks, is an integral part of the United States Navy’s tactical air forces. VAW-126 is one of five Airborne Command & Control Squadrons based in Norfolk, VA. Equipped with five E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft, the squadron's primary mission is airborne early warning and command and control in support of joint warfare commanders. VAW-126 conducts diverse operations such as air intercept control, strike control, surface search and coordination, search and rescue coordination, and tactical command and control.
VAW-126 was commissioned in Norfolk, VA on 1 April 1969. Equipped with four E-2A Hawkeye aircraft, the squadron was assigned to Attack Carrier Air Wing SEVENTEEN (CVW-17) which embarked onboard the USS Forrestal (CV-59). Following the completion of their first deployment in July 1970, the squadron transitioned to the E-2B. This was an upgraded version of the E-2, equipped with a newer and more flexible digital computer weapons system. The command received accolades early in its history; winning the highly coveted COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E" award in 1971 and 1974 and the Chief of Naval Operations Safety “S” award in 1971.
While homeward bound from a Mediterranean deployment in September 1974, the squadron performed a crossdeck to USS America (CV-66). The NATO deployment marked VAW-126's final E-2B flying as well. Following their return to Norfolk in October 1974, the squadron transitioned to the E-2C Group 0 variant: an aircraft similar in appearance to its predecessor, but with a significantly more capable and reliable weapon system.
In August 1975, the squadron commenced operations in the Caribbean Sea with Carrier Air Wing NINE (CVW-9), based at NAS Miramar, CA. In May 1976, the command conducted many trips moving the entire squadron back and forth between Norfolk and Miramar to operate with CVW-9 and prepare for their upcoming deployment aboard USS Constellation (CV-64). The squadron made two Western Pacific deployments with USS Constellation (CV-64), completing their final one in May 1978.
Upon returning to the East Coast in 1979, the Seahawks joined USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and Carrier Air Wing ONE (CVW-1). In August 1980, the Seahawks would once again find themselves in the Mediterranean Sea for an eight month deployment. In July 1981, VAW-126 joined Carrier Air Wing THREE (CVW-3), which replaced CVW-1 as the air wing deployed aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67). As a result of their superior performance on their 1983-84 deployment, they were awarded the 1983 COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E." In addition, the Seahawks earned the COMNAVAIRLANT "Silver Anchor" award for superior retention and the Airborne Early Warning Excellence Award as the best VAW squadron in the Navy. In August 1986, the Seahawks departed for the Mediterranean aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) for the second time.
Upon their return in March 1987, the Seahawks kept active by participating in a variety of exercises. By November 1987, the squadron was back aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) in preparation for their next deployment.
1988 proved to be another outstanding year for the Seahawks. They once again were awarded the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E," Meritorious Unit Commendation, and won the CVW-3 and CAEWWING 12 nomination for the Secretary of Defense Maintenance Excellence award. The Seahawks departed on USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) in August for its fourth deployment.
The Seahawks set sail for their final deployment attached to the USS John F. Kennedy Battle Group in August 1990, answering the call for Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. During this eight month deployment, the Seahawks accumulated over 2,850 flight hours.
In late 1993, the CVW-3 team was reassigned to USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) and deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in October 1994. The Seahawks were awarded the 1994 COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E" and the Airborne Early Warning Excellence award. In late 1995, the CVW-3 team was once again reassigned, this time to USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Battle Group.
In November 1996, the Seahawks deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in support of operations in Bosnia and the Adriatic Sea providing support to NATO air operations. In November 1998, VAW-126 deployed aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65), participating in Arabian Gulf operations, including Operations DESERT FOX and SOUTHERN WATCH. VAW-126 also participated in Juniper Stallion, INVITEX, and Kosovo operations. The Carrier Battle Group wrapped up the deployment in the Arabian Gulf and returned home in May 1999.
From July to September of 1999, VAW-126 participated in counter-narcotics operations based out of Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The Seahawks, in cooperation with Joint Interagency Task Force, monitored and detected illegal drug suspects in the Caribbean. After returning from Puerto Rico, VAW-126 assisted in search and rescue efforts to rescue Hurricane Floyd survivors in North Carolina.
VAW-126 deployed onboard the Navy's newest aircraft carrier at the time, USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) from November 2000 to May 2001. Their time was spent in the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas flying over 850 flight hours in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. The Seahawk maintenance professionals earned two Golden Wrench awards while deployed. Following deployment, the Seahawks spent several weeks in Puerto Rico supporting counter-narcotic operations in the region.
The Seahawks deployed aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) with CVW-3 in December 2002. Driving forward from a small corner of the Mediterranean, the Seahawks flew 100 sorties and over 445 hours in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. The Seahawks returned home to Norfolk in May 2003. This would prove to be the last deployment for the E-2C Group 0 and the Seahawks were the final squadron to transition to the E-2C+ Group II, ending an important era in Naval Aviation. In recognition of the year’s accomplishments, VAW-126 was awarded the 2003 COMNAVAIRLANT Battle “E” as well as the 2003 RADM Frank Akers award for superior AEW excellence.
In October 2004, VAW-126 deployed aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) to the Arabian Gulf. During this highly intensive combat cruise, the Seahawks surpassed all previous records by flying 419 combat missions into Iraq, accumulating more than 2,000 flight hours in support of Operation IRAQI FEEDOM. In December 2004, the squadron sent two aircraft from the Arabian Gulf to Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM for the inauguration of the first democratically elected president. The Seahawks returned home in April 2005.
In September 2005, the Seahawks were called to perform rescue and relief operations in response to Hurricane Katrina. With over 150 aircraft operating over the devastated Gulf Coast at any given time, command and control was essential to rescue survivors and deliver much-needed supplies. Staging out of NAS Pensacola, FL, VAW-126 provided the necessary air coordination and flew 46 sorties over a period of 18 days.
Entering 2006, the Seahawks transitioned from the E-2C+ Group II aircraft to the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 (HE2K) platform. The new platform was soon tested in March when the Seahawks participated in a mini-strike fighter advanced readiness program (SFARP) at NAS Key West, FL. This exercise enabled the naval flight officers and Pilots to familiarize themselves with the added capabilities of the HE2K in the air-to-air operational environment. In March, the Seahawks were awarded both the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E" award and the RADM Frank Akers Award for AEW Excellence for CY 2005, naming them as the finest Hawkeye squadron in naval aviation.
In November 2007, the Seahawks deployed onboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), commencing flight operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM that December. The next four months included sustained operations over Iraq in support of Army, Marine Corps, and coalition personnel on the ground.
In April 2008, increased insurgent activity in Basrah, Iraq resulted in the Seahawks flying additional combat missions providing time sensitive command and control to coalition forces allowing them to secure the city and ultimately defeat the uprising. The Seahawks’ cooperative engagement capability (CEC) provided the strike group commander a single integrated air picture (SIAP) extending as far north as Baghdad, Iraq. Combat operations ended for the squadron in April and the strike group prepared for the long transit home, making final port visits to Rhodes, Greece and Marseilles, France along the way. After departing Marseilles, the Seahawks hosted French E-2C Hawkeyes for a day of carrier launch and recovery operations. The Seahawks returned home in June 2008 concluding another successful combat deployment and earning the squadron the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E" award for 2008 and the RADM Akers AEW Excellence award for 2008.
From June 2008 to February 2009, the Seahawks participated in multiple events controlling fighters off the coast of Virginia in order to remain tactically proficient to become ready for the next set of deployment work-ups.
The Seahawks had an incredibly busy and arduous year, in 2009, as work-ups began. VAW-126 was getting ready for their next deployment by training in NAS Fallon and participating in tailored ship’s training availability (TSTA), composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX), and joint training field exercise (JTFX) aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), honing their operational skills and carrier landings in preparation for their upcoming deployment.
In May 2010, the Seahawks deployed onboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), in support of Operations NEW DAWN and ENDURING FREEDOM. VAW-126 deployed for seven months supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility. This deployment included sustained operations over Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Army, Marine Corps, and coalition personnel on the ground. The Seahawks enjoyed port visits in Marseilles, Dubai, Bahrain, and Souda Bay. Before stopping in Marseilles, the Seahawks hosted French E-2C Hawkeyes for a day of carrier launch and recovery operations. The Seahawks conducted 324 combat sorties accumulating 1,520 flight hours in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN and were an integral part of CVW-3. The Seahawks returned home in December 2010, concluding another successful combat deployment. They earned the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E" award for FY 2010, the RADM Akers AEW Excellence award for CY 2010, and the Safety “S” for CY 2010.
In 2011, the Seahawks transitioned from the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 aircraft to the E-2C+ Group II aircraft. In June 2011, VAW-126 participated in FRUKUS, a maritime interoperability exercise with France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Later in the year the Seahawks found themselves participating in independent deployers certification exercises (IDCERTEX) to verify interoperability among the Atlantic Fleet. In November, the squadron traveled to Key West, FL to participate in Exercise VIGILANT SHIELD, a joint deployable integrated air and missile defense (J-DIAMD) exercise.
In April 2012, the Seahawks once again began workups for the upcoming deployment, participating in HARP, SFARP, TSTA, and air wing Fallon. By the end of the year, VAW-126 honed their warfighting skills for the rapidly approaching deployment.
As a final test of the air wing and strike group’s deployment readiness, 2013 began with COMPTUEX. The Seahawks’ February scheduled deployment was delayed days before leaving. In order to maintain readiness, VAW-126 performed sustainment exercises (SUSTAINEX) and an additional COMPTUEX prior to leaving on deployment in July onboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).
The Seahawks deployed for nine months in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and maritime security operations and theater security in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility. During this period, the squadron led multiple air defense exercises and sea strike exercises involving both naval assets and coalition forces. While deployed aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), the Seahawks had the unique opportunity to represent CVW-3 as the sole aircraft to participate in the Dubai Air Show. VAW-126 also seized the opportunity to support international relations by participating in multiple events with foreign nations. As a culmination of events, the Seahawks provided liaison officers to the French aircraft carrier the FS Charles de Galle (R91) while hosting French liaison officers, greatly improving the working relations between the two nations. Additionally, the Seahawks landed aboard the French carrier and became the first U.S. Navy Hawkeye aircrew to provide a mission brief to French Naval Aviators before launching from R91 and controlling a large force exercise consisting of both French and U.S. Navy aircraft.
During deployment, the Seahawks enjoyed port calls in Marseille, Dubai, Bahrain, and Palma de Mallorca. They conducted 665 sorties accumulating over 1,600 flight hours in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and nearly 2,300 total flight hours as a key element to a successful deployment. The Seahawks returned home from deployment in April 2014 and earned the COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E"award for FY 2013, the 2013 Medical Blue “M”, and the Retention Excellence Award.
After returning home, the Seahawks maintained their readiness in case they were called upon by their nation. In March 2015, the squadron participated in Joint Exercise GREEN FLAG 15-06 by providing airborne command and control for the USAF 548th Fighter Training Squadron at Barksdale AFB, LA.
In August 2015, the Seahawks left CVW-3 and were assigned to COMACCLOGWING. In November 2015, the squadron participated once more in Joint Exercise GREEN FLAG 16-02 by providing airborne command and control for the USAF 548th Fighter Training Squadron. In January 2016, they were awarded the 2015 Medical Blue “M” award. The Seahawks began their transition to the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye platform in the beginning of 2016, successfully completing it in record time while maintaining a high level of maintenance and aircrew proficiency.
With the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye now on the flight line, the Seahawks began to implement the newest aircraft in the fleet by successfully completing HARP and SFARP in early 2017. This began their challenging work-up cycle as they went on to excel at air wing Fallon as part of CVW-1 for the first time since 1981. Directly following their success in Fallon, the Seahawks embarked aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) for deck certification, beginning the process of incorporating the Advanced Hawkeye into future strike group operations.
In October 2017, the Seahawks were back out to sea with CVN 75, completing TSTA and honing their skills with Carrier Strike Group EIGHT (CSG-8). Upon their return to NS Norfolk, the Seahawks left once again for air wing Fallon to practice and improve their carrier airborne early warning tactics. Following Fallon, the Seahawks once again embarked on USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) for composite training unit exercise (COMPTUEX), where the squadron employed the new E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and excelled in all facets.
After an arduous optimized fleet response plan, CSG-8 was certified ready for deployment and left aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in April of 2018. The deployment was the first of its kind as it represented the inception of the Defense Department’s dynamic force employment schedule. The Seahawks participated in the multinational exercise LIGHTNING HANDSHAKE. Following their successful employment and control of domestic and foreign assets, CVW-1 shifted their focus to the Eastern Mediterranean. VAW-126 played a pivotal role in Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (OIR), flying 28 combat sorties encompassing 385 flight hours executing battlespace command and control. Completing their assigned mission in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Seahawks participated in French air defense week representing the best the world has to offer regarding tactical airspace management of assets.
Unlike traditional deployments, the new dynamic force employment schedule brought CSG-8 back to Norfolk, VA in July 2018 for a period of training and reconstitution before redeploying in late August. The beginning of this second deployment saw the Seahawks work with more than 40 nations across the Atlantic, strengthening foreign allies and honing CSG-8’s lethality. VAW-126, along with the rest of CSG-8, participated in Operation TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018 in the Arctic Circle, cementing their place in history as the first carrier to operate in the high north in over 30 years. The Seahawks flew 75 hours supporting the exercise, battling adverse weather conditions, and proving the E-2D’s unprecedented capabilities.
The Seahawks continued to participate in numerous multinational exercises working with a host of nations and exercising CSG-8’s ability to be operationally dynamic. USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) returned to homeport in December of 2018 after executing a second successful dynamic force employment deployment having demonstrated the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye’s capabilities to the world. As a result of their superior performance, they were awarded the 2018 COMNAVAIRLANT Battle "E."
After a short break, VAW-126 was right back into the fight, sustaining for another upcoming deployment. Undergoing a shortened HARP syllabus and sending several aircrews to St. Louis for instructional tactical readiness detachment, the Seahawks continued to prepare for the challenges ahead and stood ready to rise to the occasion.
In late March 2019, VAW-126 embarked on USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) to conduct sustainment exercises (SUSTEX) off the East coast of the United States prior to participating in CVW-1 readiness exercises at NAS Fallon, NV, allowing Pilots and naval flight officers the ability to hone their tactical proficiency. In July, the Seahawks embarked on USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) for COMPTUEX before deploying in November. During this time, the Seahawks were awarded the Safety “S” for their sustained superior performance in all aspects of safety. In December, the Seahawks transited the Suez Canal southbound and entered the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations in support of operations FREEDOM SENTINEL and SENTINEL SHIELD.
In January 2020, VAW-126 continues to support U.S. Fifth Fleet operations while deployed with CSG-8, but officially changed their name from Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE TWO SIX to Airborne Command & Control Squadron ONE TWO SIX as part of Airborne Command & Control and Logistics Wing’s new brand modernization initiative.