Based at Aviano airbase, in northeast Italy, the 31st Fighter Wing mobilized its squadrons deploying their F-16s to Poland in response to Ukrainian Crisis.
“The noise you hear is the sound of freedom”.
This catchphrase was coined at Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station and can be read at several airbases around the world, however, this is the first thing that comes to mind by looking at the U.S. F-16s at Aviano, that we had the opportunity to visit lately.
With its forty Block 40 F-16CMs/DMs (formerly CGs/DGs), the 31st Fighter Wing is part of the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE).
As explained to The Aviationist by U.S. personnel, the Vipers belonging to to both squadrons are capable of flying both offensive and defensive air combat missions, performing mainly air superiority, attack and CAS (Close Air Support) missions; no SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) role, since this specific task is assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing Vipers, based at Spangdalhem, in Germany.
Quite impressive is also the wide array of weapons used to carry out their missions.
Air-to-air weaponry includes AIM-120B/C AMRAAM and the AIM-9L/M/X, with the latter model of the Sidewinder even more lethal because combined with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. For the air to ground role every kind of free fall bombs is available: from the various general purpose bombs belonging to the US Mark 80 series, to the modern smart bombs such as the GBU-10/24/31 and JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) models.
The visit was also the opportunity to talk with some experienced crew of the 31st FW about the way the F-16 compares with other USAF hardware: the F-15E Strike Eagle, more powerful and more easy to maintain than the Fighting Falcon, but less maneuverable and with a higher radar-cross section; the F-22 Raptor, an impressive fighter that still requires time to achieve its full potential; and the F-35 Lightning II, an interesting, very expensive weapons system with many unresolved problems and an uncertain future.
Still, 31st FW pilots are more than happy with their old F-16s: “The Common Configuration Implementaion Program (CCIP), brought essential avionics upgrades to our F-16s keeping them to a state of the art standard” they said “and with our Vipers we are ready to deploy anywhere our presence is requested to protect US and NATO interests.”
The exercise, due to take place until Apr. 17, is “a bilateral training whose aim is to enhance interoperability and readiness through combined air operations, including air-to-air, air-to-ground and joint tactical air controller training.”
31FW Fighting Falcons will conduct range operations and joint exercise sorties with Romanian Mig-21 Lancer (as the local, upgraded version of the Soviet Fishbed is dubbed) to enhance interoperability and give Romanian air force personnel knowledge about the F-16 flying program: last year Romania signed a contract to procure 12 F-16s from Portugal, more modern aircraft that will be used to replace the aging MiG-21s.
Not all planes have undercarriages capable to sustain a landing on an unprepared runway. The A-10 is not among them.
Although the reader who sent us this image was not able to provide more details about it, the photograph is worth a note because it shows something you don’t see every day: an attack plane landing on an unprepared runway.
In this case, the aircraft is a U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthog, wearing the markings of the 104th Fighter Squadron of the 175th Wing of the Maryland Air National Guardstationed at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Maryland.
More than 24 months since the last hypoxia-like incident occurred, the U.S. Air Force has decided to equip its F-22s with a backup oxygen system.
The Raptor fleet will soon receive a brand new backup oxygen system as part of multiple contracts awarded to Lockheed Martin (worth 30 Million USD) DefenseNews reported.
F-22s belonging to the 3rd Wing from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, have already received the new system, that will be implemented by the rest of the radar-evading planes by the second quarter of year 2015.
Being automatic, the new system does not require pilot intervention; a big improvement from the previous one that had to be activated by the pilot, which might be quite difficult, if not impossible if the latter was experiencing hypoxia-like/oxygen deprivation symptoms.
Because of the mysterious problem that plagued the stealthy fleet to such an extent the radar-evading aircraft were grounded back in 2011 following a deadly incident involving an Alaska-based, the Pentagon initially grounded the F-22s, and then, after lifting the flight ban, it restricted Air Force Raptors to fly near a “proximate landing location” in order to give pilots the possibility to land quickly if their planes’ On Board Oxygen Generating System (OBOGS) fail.
The installation of the new automatic backup oxygen system is not the only upgrade the U.S. Raptors will get in 2015: according to DefenseNews, along with advanced electronic warfare protection and improved ground threat geolocation, F-22s should also get the ability to carry AIM-120D and AIM-9X advanced missiles.
Washington ramps up its presence in Eastern Europe with more U.S. Air Force F-16 combat planes deploying to Romania.
The U.S. is going to station more F-16 fighter jets to Romania, amind rising tensions after Russia’s invasion and subsequent annexiation of Crimea.
Even if the aircraft will take part in a pre-planned joint exercise, the deployment of the American warplanes close to Ukraine, is a just the last of a series of actions aimed at reassuring eastern Europe and Baltic allies worried by Russia’s seemingly aggressive posture.
Furthermore, the Pentagon is sending 175 new troops to Mihail Kogalniceanu military base in Romania, near the Black Sea port of Constanta, to boost the local presence of some 265 Marines already stationed there as part of a Black Sea Rotational Force.