The US Air Force is getting more and more unfit to fulfill its core duty: waging war in case the country’s leadership asks it to do. The main problem is the substantial shortage of combat ready pilots, and the issue will get worse the coming years.
According to press agency Reuters, quoting Air Force officials, no less then 500 fighter pilots are “missing”. For 2022 that number is expected to land at more than 800. Main reason is the reduction of active duty fighter squadrons and subsequently having less Reserve and maybe even Guard pilots available.
More than 20 years ago the US Air Force had 100 fighter squadrons, which is now down to 54. The US Air Force still outclasses its Russian counter part (about 40 squadrons are in the Russian Air Force), while the People’s Liberation Army of China puts an estimated 180 squadron a field, but made up of much smaller numbers with about 2,000 aircraft in total less than the US Air Force does.
From 21 February to 4 March, Portugal was the stage of Real Thaw, the annual exercise that provides special training to NATO units most likely to participate in military operations within international cooperative frame works. And if Portugal was the stage, Beja airbase was the dressing room. Fighter aircraft, transporters and helos all played their part.
Other than delivering jet noise over large parts of Portugal, the main goal of Real Thaw 2016 was to provide tough tactical training with participation of air, land and sea forces and focusing on the execution phase. Participating forces were confronted with an operating environment as realistic as possible and typical of current operations, according to the Portuguese Air Force, organizer of Real Thaw.
The Portuguese sent all their assets to join Real Thaw, including F-16s, Alfa Jets, C-130 Hercules plus P-3 and C295 maritime patrol aircraft. Forces from other countries were invited to participate in Real Thaw 2016 in order to create a joint-operational environment.
Participation also came from the US (F-15, MV-22 and C-130), Norway (F-16), the Netherlands (C-130), Belgium (C-130), Denmark (AS550 support helicopters), Spain (C-212 light transport aircraft) and the UK. Also, a NATO E-3A Awacs was involved.
Day and night
Missions took place at both day and night times environments and included the use of para jumpers, forward air controllers and other ground forces. The coordination of Real Thaw 2016 was run from Beja Air Base in central Portugal. In order to give support to air and ground missions that took place further north in the areas of Guarda and Pinhel, a tactical air base was temporarily set up near the town of Seia.
Real Thaw 2016 was the eighth exercise in a series conducted by the Portuguese Air Force since 2009.
Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) F-15 fighter jets finally arrived at Incirlik airbase, Turkey, on Friday 26 February after weeks of reports and rumours. The jets were accompanied by an Airbys A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The F-15s are two seat F-15S variants, capable of precision strikes in Syria. Saudi Arabia earlier this month stated it contemplated sending strike aircraft to Turkey for operations over Syria, but it remained unclear wether or when aircraft would actually be deployed.
Riyadh is opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a thought shared by Ankara. The sending of warplanes could escalate the military situation in but especially in the skies over Syria. Russian and Iranian jets have been operating over the country in support of Assas, while Western allied aircraft rage war against Islamic States forces in Syria.
UPDATED 16 February | The Royal Saudi Air Force is about to send combat jets to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey, to start bombing runs against the so-called Islamic State forces (ISIS / ISIL / Daesh) in Syria.
Update | News surrounding the deployment is vague at best. Most recent info is that the Saudi jets will deploy to Turkey ‘by the end of February’, sources in Riyadh say.
Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Cavusoglu confirmed the Kingdom’s plans Saturday 13 February 2015. Saudi quarter makers already inspected Incirlik and see it fit for operations, Cavusoglu said to Turkish journalists.
With the substantial Russian combat air expeditionary wing operating inside Syria, the RSAF probably will not only deploy air-to-ground attack dedicated F-15S/SA Strike Eagles, Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado IDSs – or a mixture of those – but very likely add a dedicated counter-air/air escort element to the ops. That task could either be done by the Typhoons or Saudi F-15C and D Eagle air-supiority fighters.
According to sources in Ankara and in Riyadh the Saudis are even considering a land operation, with troops being flown into Incirlik to cross into Syria from Turkish territory. If that plan will be executed, it may mean involvement of Saudi AH-64 Apache attack helicopters operating from Incirlik as well, but so far that plan is just a plan.
The Saudis are calling an end to the leadership of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, who in turn is more or less supported by Moscow – at least for the time being.
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.