Code One Magazine (13)
More than 250 Airmen and pilots flying fourteen F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 510th Fighter Squadron returned to Aviano AB, Italy, on 27 March after more than three weeks of training at Zaragoza AB, Spain. The purpose of the training was to build coalition partnerships with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies and accomplish critical flight training. While in Spain, the 510th FS pilots completed air-to-air training mission against Spanish EF-18 Hornets and EF-2000 Eurofighters and performed air-to-ground missions such as basic surface attacks, close air support, and large force employment.
Pilots of the 510th Fighter Squadron and Germany's Jagdgeschwader 73 train as adversaries but relax as friends. This deployment was the first large-scale encounter with the MiG-29 Fulcrum for the US Air Force.
The 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano Air Base in Italy led the largest air raids in Europe since World War II in the summer of 1995. Aircraft from the wing and from other coalition forces inflicted heavy damage on key Bosnian Serb targets. During Operation Deliberate Force, as the NATO-led bombing offensive of August and September was called, F-16 pilots of the 31st Wing's 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons flew as part of large strike packages with US Navy and Marine Corps pilots as well as with British, French, Dutch, German, Italian, and Turkish aircrews.
Visitors to the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy are treated to what amounts to an international air show year-round. Ramps and shelters display a wide variety of aircraft from numerous countries, including Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, and Spain. F-16s reside permanently at the wing's 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons. USAFE expeditionary forces, consisting of A-10s from Spangdahlem, Germany, and F-15Es from Lakenheath, England, visit Aviano. The wing hosted a group of Portuguese F-16s last December. The US Marines have a contingent of EA-6B radar jamming aircraft at the base. And F-16s visit from Air National Guard and USAF Reserve units in the United States as rotations allow.
Airborne Forward Air Controllers, AFACs as they are called, are usually thought of as spotters in low-flying and slow-moving aircraft. That flight regime seems appropriate for identifying ground targets for other aircraft. The Air Force tried using fast-flying aircraft, the F-100 and F-4 in particular, as airborne controllers for a short time during the Vietnam War. The concept, however, met with limited success. So, the service fell back to relying primarily on such aircraft as the venerable single-engine 0-1 Bird Dog, the twin piston-engine 0-2 Skymaster, and the twin turboprop OV-10 Bronco. Other similar slower aircraft have also been used to a lesser extent over the years. More recently, the close air support A-10 Warthog evolved into the OA-10 to fill the AFAC role for USAF.
If USAF has such a thing as a food chain, F-16s at Aviano are dining near the top. The Block 40 jets at this air base in northern Italy are fully outfitted with LANTIRN navigation and targeting pods. They are the first and only operational F-16s with Sure Strike—a system that receives highly accurate targeting information from the ground. They are also the first F-16s in the active-duty Air Force to employ night vision goggles, or NVGs, operationally. And by march, all of the F-16s of Aviano’s 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons will have cockpits and external lighting that are fully compatible with NVGs, thanks to a modification called the night vision imaging systems, or NVIS.
The Buzzards of the 510th Fighter Squadron from Aviano Air Base in northern Italy packed their travel pods and headed west over the Atlantic early this year to take in a few training opportunities in the United States. At Aviano, the Buzzards and the pilots from their sister squadron, the 555th, train with Italian F-104s and coalition forces located nearby, such as Dutch and Belgian F-16s, Canadian and Spanish F/A-18s, German Tornados, and US Navy fighters. Aviano-based F-16s have also participated in NATO Partnership for Peace exercises and in exchanges with Hungarian MiG-29s, Swedish Viggens, and French Mirage 2000s. Stateside training, however, offers many advantages not readily available in Europe, like firing live weapons and participating in large-scale exercises.
Almost 200 F-16s from seven nations have so far been committed to Operation Allied Force since the attacks on Kosovo and Serbia began on 24 March. F-16s allocated to the operation are flying from eight bases in three countries. The largest contingent of F-16s, about seventy, can be found at Aviano Air Base in northern Italy. In fact, Allied Force has made Aviano home to the largest single Air Force combat wing ever assembled at one base.
US and allied pilots have flown thousands of combat missions over hostile territory since the Gulf War. The missions continue in Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch over Iraq, where pilots face surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery. They also deal with similar threats over the former Yugoslavia, though to a lesser degree. Despite these constant threats, aircraft losses to hostile fire in these operations can be counted on one hand, thanks to intricate planning, substantial experience, and advanced hardware. If the worst case happens, however, and an aircraft goes down, a combat search and rescue mission kicks into high gear to extract the aircrew from hostile territory quickly and safely.