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US Military Begins Surveillance Flights Above Houston

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. military has dispatched dozens of aircraft to assist in relief missions across the Houston, Texas, area -- including surveillance aircraft.

The U.S. has sent up one Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime, patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, and a single Air Force E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system, or AWACS, aircraft to conduct air traffic control, surveillance, gather data on flooded areas and provide situational awareness to the 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) operations center, officials from the command tell Military.com.

The mission is headed by the command's 601st air operations center, headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, which also houses the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

Crews at the only non-offensive air operations center, known as "America's AOC," work in shifts around the clock to help fill the gap when state or local officials don't have the resources to rescue missing persons within the U.S.

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Mary McHale, spokeswoman for AFNORTH, says the operations center is currently using and monitoring 11 HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters; seven HC-130J extended-range, search and rescue aircraft, which are also acting as "refuelers as well as cargo as tasked;" and some Civil Air Patrol Cessna aircraft.  

"We are not using any MQ-1 [or MQ-]9 assets at this time," McHale clarified when asked if other surveillance aircraft are being dispatched.

Earlier Wednesday, the Air Force said some of the HC-130J Combat King IIs,  HH-60G Pave Hawks, aircrew and other support personnel from the 23rd Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, deployed to College Station, Texas. This includes approximately 120 personnel from the 41st, 38th and 71st Rescue Squadrons under the 347th Rescue Group.  

Other Pave Hawks, along with some Combat King HC-130P/N -- which can also provide helicopter air-to-air refueling -- from the 90th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, arrived at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base on Aug. 28.

Two C-17 Globemaster IIIs left Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday carrying 30.6 tons of relief supplies to Alexandria International Airport, in Alexandria, Louisiana.

"They had two crews launch to carry relief cargo and support personnel into the region. Aircrews were comprised of members from the 14th, 15th and 16th Airlift Squadrons," Capt. Mark Graff, an Air Force spokesman, said in an email.

Two Air National Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft and 20 airmen from the Oregon Air National Guard's 125th Special Tactics Squadron and the 304th Rescue Squadron are providing humanitarian support.  

The Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing departed Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on a C-130 on Monday, with 21 members to include pararescuemen, combat rescue officers, combat support personnel and aircrew. The unit is expected to coordinate missions with HH-60 helicopters from California's 129th Rescue Wing.

Lastly, more than a dozen airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron are assisting with rescue and recovery efforts.

The news of aircraft movements comes a few days after all 12,000 members of the Texas Army and Air National Guard were mobilized and active duty units were put on standby to deal with the catastrophic flooding and continuing hard rain triggered by Hurricane Harvey, which became a Category 4 hurricane late on Aug. 25 before it hit the Texas coastline.

As the death tolls continued to rise Wednesday, Texas officials said the storm is the worst climatic disaster in Texas history.

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