The US Air National Guard is considering to retire its fleet of F-15C/D Eagle jets currently in use for air defense, and replacing them with F-16s. If this goes ahead, the F-16s would have to be upgraded with better radars and more endurance.
The announcement came as a surprise on Wednesday. The Air National Guard used the F-15 for Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) plus other air defense duties, but finds the 45-year old design to expensive to use. Nevertheless, the F-15 is still regarded as the best air superiority fighter jet ever made, with 104 consecutive air-to-air victories in its career against zero loses.
What is most surprising however, is the mention of using F-16s to replace the Eagles. A number of Air National Guard units already flew F-16s before they started using their current F-15s. In the past, a specialized F-16ADF (Air Defense Fighter) was used by these units, as well as F-16C/D jets. The F-16ADF was never deemed very suited and was therefore retired in the Nineties.
Using F-16s again for air defense would mean upgrades in terms of radar and endurance. Upgrading retired US Air Force F-16s – which are now making way for the F-35 – into F-16V models is a likely option, but even new-built jets are being considered. These will then have to be built in South Carolina, since Lockheed Martin is to move F-16 production from Texas to here. This September, the last F-16 will leave current Lockheed Martin production in Fort Worth, Texas.
Of note: the US Air Force also still uses F-15C/D models in active service, operating them from airbase in the continental US and from airbases in the UK and Japan. The Air National Guard announcement therefore seems a bit odd and perhaps should mostly been seen in the light of Donald Trump’s plan to increase defense spending. The Air National Guard seems to want to make sure it gets its piece of the pie.
In May, US F-15 Eagle fighter jets will perform joint training with Finnish Air Force F-18 Hornets in the skies over Finland, the ministry of defense in Helsinki confirmed to Airheadsfly.com on Tuesday 10 February. It marks the first time the US and Finland work together in a large scale military exercise.
The F-15s likely are part of a Theater Security Package (TSP) such as the ones the US sent to Europe in 2015 also. Then, the fighter jets also took part in various military exercises, although they did not venture into Scandinavia.
The US pilots and ground crew will be based at Kuopio-Rissala airbase, home to Finnish Air Force F-18s. The exercise runs between 9 and 22 May and should largely play out in the skies over Lapland and eastern Finland, close to neighbouring Russia.
The Polish Airbase of Lask has been home to Polish F-16s for quite some time. This June F-16s from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing join their Polish counterparts in bilateral training. The US F-16s deployed to Europe on 28 May as part of an ‘aviation detachment’, as the Air National Guard calls it.
The South Carolina F-16s are perhaps better known by their ‘Swamp Foxes’ nickname., and usually based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, SC. The unit also brought aircraft in the relatively new ‘Have Glass’ colour scheme, recognizable by the darker grey colour.
Bilateral Polish-US air force training has taken place since 2012. US F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany and Aviano Air Base in Italy have previously deployed to Lask.
Every now and then a video pops up that is worth its own space at Airheadsfly.com. On Tuesday 2 June, the Dutch ministry of Defense published gear footage of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) F-16 pilot sharing the sky with a US Air National Guard F-15 Eagle, but also exchanging some simulated hostilities during Dissimilar air combat training (DACT).
The video was made earlier this Spring, when twelve F-15 Eagles of the Florida Air National Guard’s 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron deployed to Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. A story on that – also with video! – is here.
The Eagles later took part in exercise Frisian Flag (see here and here for more vids) and are currently deployed to Bulgaria.
Wether they involved noisy fighter jets or not, for years and years military exercises in European passed by largely unnoticed by the general public. The same can’t be said for exercises held over the last few months, which saw themselves at the focus of the new’s attention. Recent military exercises such Frisian Flag 2015 at Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands, are as much about training as about a show of force.
The US has been eager to show its airborne teeth in Europe, sending Theater Security Packages of A-10s and F-15s to Europe – packages that were previously reserved for ‘other’ hot spots around the globe and earlier this year caught many off guard in Europe.
The F-15s took part in Frisian Flag 2015, along with Dutch and Polish F-16s, Spanish and Finnish F-18s plus German Typhoons. A show of force as seen by many – and in these times, that’s one objective ticked off. Let’s rewind that in this quality film by professional filmer Vincent Kok of Imaging the Light.