Undoubtedly the Mid Life Update of the F-16s in Norway is one of the most important steps forward the Royal Norwegian Air Force has taken for a long time. But for 332 Squadron, based at Rygge Military Air Station, some 40nm south of Oslo, it also imparts a major sense of pride, as they will shortly become the first Operational Conversion Unit for Norwegian Air Force pilots transitioning onto the MLU F-16.
«We will be getting our first MLU students in the autumn,» explained 332 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, Major Dag Olav Kleppesto, commonly known as ‘Swede’.
Being an Instructor Pilot (IP) might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but those at 332
Squadron glean enormous satisfaction from their role. “We feel that the role of pilot training during peacetime operations is just as important as during a major conflict, since the skills these pilots learn while they are with us are ones that will ultimately keep them alive during conflict and allow them to complete their missions,” said ‘Swede’.
Once the F-16 MLU training comes on line, 332 Squadron will probably have a number of roles to perform. The first will be that of teaching new pilots in the Air Force how to fly the MLU aircraft, since it is substantially different from its older counterpart. Included in this training syllabus is the delivery of air-to-ground weapons. «We are only one squadron within the Norwegian Air Force that trains our pilots in both air defence as well as air-to-ground tactics,» explained the CO. Students are taught tactics in the delivery of Mk.82s, CRV-7 anti-shipping rockets and the Norwegian-built Penguin missile. The Norwegian Air Force also bought a number of GBU-12s, but they were sent to Bodo MAS in northern Norway. The Air Defence phase will incorporate teaching the basics of the role, the tactics, and the employment of such weapons as the AIM-9 and AIM-120. «When the students come out of the squadron we want to ensure that they are some of the best fighter pilots in Norway,” explained ‘Swede’. A student who progresses through the course graduates at wingman level and will have attained a limited combat readiness state. The general consensus within the squadron is that there is a great sense of satisfaction in watching a new pilot come into the unit and progress through to graduation. “It really makes you feel proud,» ‘Swede’ commented. For the past year, however, no students have passed through the front doors of 332 Squadron. Because the MLU is basically a brand-new jet, the IPs have to undertake quite a steep learning curve before they are able to pass that knowledge on. “The MLU has some major improvements and is a very, very capable jet,” commented Capt Bill ‘Jocko’ Jacobus, a USAF pilot assigned to 332 Squadron for a two-year period. The squadron has had an American exchange pilot for a number of years. Before arriving at Rygge, ‘Jocko’ flew the F-16 at PACAF’s Eielson AFB in Alaska. Maybe that’s one of the reasons he was chosen for the position — he was already used to the weather. He had to undergo a six-month language course, though, to equip him with enough Norwegian to get by. This downtime has allowed the IPs to run through their own syllabus getting up to speed on the jet. By the time the first student arrives, everyone will have completed the course and should be able to answer any questions they may ask. One of the advantages at the moment is that the IPs being taught are highly experienced pilots. When autumn comes round, their new pilots will be fresh from pilot training at Tucson, Arizona.
One of the more unusual things about Norwegian Air Force personnel is the hours they keep. Everyone starts work around 07.30hrs in the morning and works through to 15.30hrs. “Sometimes it makes things such as exercises hard to organise, but we find that we can usually achieve what we want,” said ‘Swede’. A total of 11 IPs are assigned to the unit but there are hopes of increasing the number once they get back into the role of training.
The depth of experience within 332 Squadron is extensive, with the average number of flying hours around 850-900 hours. The highest in the squadron is 1,900 hours -the lowest is around 250 hours. “We average about 140 flight hours per year per pilot,» explained the CO. On a monthly average this is about 10 to 15 hours, but with the integration of the new aircraft it has increased slightly. Normally, pilots make one flight a day, and the associated briefings prior to and after the flight take up the rest of the day’s working time. Because of the 15.30hrs shutdown, the last aircraft has to be on the ground at 14.30hrs, giving the ground crew enough time to check it out before finishing for the day.
The four training areas used are spread out in an umbrella pattern around Rygge. The nearest is 65 miles (104km) away — most are between 80 and 120 miles (128 and 193km) away. “This is not too much of an inconvenience but it would be nice if we had some a little closer,» commented ‘Swede’. On the way to and from the training areas, many pilots are tasked with low-level flying to keep them up to speed. On designated routes ‘low level’ is classed as below 500ft (152m), but they commonly fly around at 200ft (60m). Outside these routes, a more routine height of 1,000ft (305m) is enforced. «Basically we can do what we like in just about all of southern Norway and this is a great advantage for training,” said ‘Swede’. Most of the training areas are overland, and during missions, scenarios will be built into them to allow for low-level ingress and egress to targets. This helps pilots not to forget the discipline involved in low-level flying where wires constitute one of the main dangers. Over the years, a number of aircraft have succumbed to the wire-strike problem and it is not uncommon for foreign aircraft to hit trouble. There have been reports that aircraft have actually gone under wires and only noticed them as they passed underneath — and that is too close for comfort. Missions usually last for between an hour and 80 minutes. Configuration is usually one centreline or two tanks and AIM-9s. «We always go with at least a two-ship as this is done primarily for safety. Should something happen, there is another aircraft there to help out,» ‘Swede’ explained.
More often than not, the 332 Squadron F-16s will meet up with F-16s from 338 Squadron based at Orland MAS further north. They meet halfway, fight and then return home, an arrangement which tries to be fair to both sides. Another big plus for the squadron, at least until the end of the year, is the advantage of having fully upgraded F-5s on base. Equipped with head-up displays (HUDs), laser INS and other fancy additions, the F-5 provides a very good dissimilar air combat training (DACT) adversary. «We enjoy fighting the F-16s because we have very small aircraft and it is nearly impossible to see the F-5 head on,” said ‘Cliff’, an F-5 pilot. Another use for the F-5 is as the target in a Visual Identification flight. However, because the F-5s are much sought-after as adversaries they often visit other squadrons around Norway and abroad.
Weather is a major factor affecting operations at Rygge. For take-off, visibility must be 0.31 miles (500m) and for landing 0.7 miles (1.2km) with a 200ft (60.9m) ceiling. Cross-wind limits are 25 knots and if the wind exceeds 45 knots on the ground out in the training areas, it’s a no-go. The main concern is the safety of the pilot if he has had to eject. Trying to release a canopy while being dragged across mountain tops is a not a good option. When it comes to flying over the sea, there are basically no restrictions on sea state since the North Sea is known for its bad conditions and besides, if there were limitations on sea state they would probably never fly. Common sense always applies. With the fjords on one side and a lake on the other, fog regularly impinges on flying ops. Overall, not many days are lost — snow and fog are worked around to ensure everything still goes to plan.
Fighter Weapons Instructor Training (FWIT) and Tactical Leadership Programs (TLPs) are just two of the courses that 332 Squadron endeavours to send its pilots on. FWIT is run within Europe for those countries that operate the F-16 and they usually send one student every other year. This course lasts six months and the squadron currently has one FWIT graduate on staff. In addition, it has one graduate from the NATO TLR The difference with TLP is that it also runs a number of ground courses as well as the flying course. «We try to send as many people as we can to the ground course but again we only send one to the flying part of the course,” said ‘Swede’.
Deployments are another part of the squadron’s yearly activities that are looked forward to. Normally two to three take place each year, two within Norway and one outside. Most deployments outside Norway will result in the squadron going to another NATO country.
«In 1997 we deployed to Torrejon in Spain and got to fly against the F-18 Hornets. This provided some great DACT against an aircraft which is not in abundance around us,” explained the CO. 1998 was different, as the squadron spent all its time getting familiar with its new aircraft. All the same, November saw five aircraft deploy to Keflavik Naval Air Station in Iceland for some DACT against Mountain Home-based F-15Cs equipped with Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) systems.
Each deployment usually lasts a week unless special circumstances dictate staying away longer. «This deployment to Iceland was part of the MLU conversion programme and it gave our new instructors a chance to put into practice some of the tactics they have been developing since they started flying the MLU jets,» ‘Swede’ said.
Normally the squadron has an allotment of 14 to 15 jets but because they are all being converted to the MLU standard they only have a current strength of nine. Three of these are the two-seat В models and at any one time there will be two aircraft in phase. By now they should have extended the fleet to a total of 16 or 17. In total, the Air Force has 58 F-16s and Lockheed Martin is currently bidding to supply it with additional F-16 Block 50N models. Time will tell if this is successful as there is fierce competition from the Eurofighter Typhoon. To date, there are only nine F-16s converted to MLU status, with more progressively making the change through to the middle of 2001. Aircraft 297 was the first of the F-16s to be converted to MLU status, and the plan was that by the end of the last year a total of 14 aircraft would have been converted. “The MLU has been a tremendous jump forward for us», commented ‘Jocko’. Squadron pilots are pleased they finally have the very capable APG-66V2 radar that can work with the AIM-120 AMRAAM. Because of its increased pick-up range they are able to see targets further away. “This radar is great because it puts targets on your multi-function display [MFD] and disregards ones that aren’t. This is mainly thanks to the new advanced Indicater Friend or Foe interrogator,” said ‘Swede’. “Over the past 20 years we used to chase ghosts around the sky. Another great advantage is the track-while-scan and the multiple launch capabilities of the AMRAAM.» One of the major improvements for the air-to-ground role the squadron is actively involved in, is the better air-to-ground images on the MFDs. “Data link capabilities have been improved in the MLU aircraft and this allows us to continually practise working procedures within a four-ship formation,» ‘Swede’ explained. Even though this is not like JTIDS, it is getting close and its benefits are very much appreciated.
Improvements and new additions to the MLU are substantial. Talking to various 332
Squadron pilots, one of the most-appreciated additions is the continued emphasis on the Hands-On Throttle And Stick (HOTAS) system. Taking into consideration the various positions and combinations that can be used, a total of 18 or 19 positions can be selected; up from nine or ten on the older jets. This allows the pilots to keep their eyes focused either outside the cockpit or on one of the two new colour MFDs. “I know one thing about using the HOTAS system is that my thumb has become a lot stronger because of the extra work,” laughed ‘Swede’. No doubt when pilots have become used to the various new combinations it will allow their tasks to get done in a shorter period of time. Because of the new arrangements within the MLU cockpit environment, pilots now have to adopt a new tactical cross-check system. “I would have to say that with the extensive upgrades the MLU jet has had, it is equal, if not slightly more improved than the Block 40 jets», said ‘Jocko’. Watching an F-16 come back from a flight is an interesting sight. Once it turns around in front of the HAS, the crew chief directs a ground crew member to attach a cable to the rear of the jet. When it is hooked up, the jet will be towed backwards into the HAS, with the chief giving directions to the pilot on which way to push the pedals, thus turning the jet. When it is back inside the HAS, final checks are made and the jet is shut down.
“This saves us a lot of manpower and time as we don’t need to find tractors from other places on base to push the aircraft back. It allows each aircraft and HAS to be self-contained, so to speak,» added the chief.
No doubt as the Norwegians become fully combat-ready with their new MLU jets, they will provide a very effective fighting force in this cold, but scenic, part of Scandinavia.