Three F-16C squadrons, two A-10C squadrons and one F-15E squadron are now in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
Air Forces Central (AFCENT) announced the arrival on Oct.24, 2023 of the F-16Cs of the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron in the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, bolstering U.S. posture to deter further aggression in the region. The “Jersey Devils” provide flexible options to coalition leaders directing air operations throughout the Middle East, according to the official statement, including contingency response capabilities and deterrence missions, while maintaining Operation Inherent Resolve’s Defeat-ISIS mission.
“We are fortunate to have the 119th EFS join us in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility. Air National Guard Airmen bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to our mission in the Middle East,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich, 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central) and Combined Forces Air Component Command Commander. “The arrival of these Airmen strengthens our ability to support our allied, coalition, and regional partners as we work together to enhance regional stability and security.”
The 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft have arrived in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to bolster U.S. posture to deter further aggression @USAFCENT pic.twitter.com/BaVakOd3uB
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) October 24, 2023
The F-16s were reportedly trailing two KC-135 and two KC-46 tankers during the last leg of the deployment from Moron, Spain, to an undisclosed location in the Middle East. Although not confirmed, they might have landed at Muwaffaq Salti/Al-Azraq Air Base in Jordan, one of the usual deployment locations for US aircraft in the area.
With this latest deployment, AFCENT currently operates three F-16C Fighting Falcon squadrons, two A-10C Thunderbolt II squadrons and one F-15E Strike Eagle squadron alongside several strategic airlift, aerial refueling, and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance platforms. Additional air assets in the area are provided by the Carrier Air Wing 8 aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford, while the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is on the way to join the Ford with its Carrier Air Wing 3.
USAF’s tankers dragging F-16s to the Middle East pic.twitter.com/NOnUiebQWt
— Itamilradar (@ItaMilRadar) October 24, 2023
Yesterday, additional KC-135 Stratotankers also arrived in the area, replacing the KC-10 Extender tankers that returned to the United States following the type’s last combat mission. It is not clear if the deployment of the 119th EFS is a consequence of the recent attacks against US forces (at least 13 so far) in the area or if it was already planned. Officials are in fact concerned about a possible region-wide escalation of the conflict and are working on additional force protection measures.
“We know that the groups conducting these attacks are supported by the IRGC and the Iranian regime,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing. “What we are seeing is the prospect for more significant escalation against U.S. forces and personnel across the region, in the very near term, coming from Iranian proxy forces and ultimately from Iran.”
In response, this past weekend, the department deployed the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group to Centcom, and directed to the region a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery from Fort Bliss, Texas, and additional Patriot missile battalions from both Fort Liberty, North Carolina, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Gen. Ryder also mentioned that an unspecified number of units were notified prepare-to-deploy orders, however they have not yet been tasked to go ahead with the deployment.