New York Snipers

Mark Ayton spoke with members of the 174th Fighter Wing, New York Air National Guard about recent capability upgrades to the F-16C.

THE 174TH Fighter Wing (FW) is part of the New York Air National Guard. It operates 15 Block 30 F-16C Fighting Falcons from Hancock Field, the military side of Syracuse International airport, in mid-state New York and has approximately 1,000 people assigned.

Since the first F-16 arrived at Syracuse in 1988, the 174th has flown Block 10 F-16As, Block 25 F-16Cs and the current Block 30 F-16C. It was one of only two Air National Guard F-16 Wings to deploy to the Middle East in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991. The second was the 157th TFW based at McEntire, South Carolina. The Wing was renamed as the 174th Fighter Wing in 1992 when Air Combat Command (its assigned command) was formed. Prior to then, the unit was named the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Deployment work-up

In preparation for the unit’s forthcoming deployment to CENTCOM (US Central Command’s area of operations), the Wing’s usual training programme was changed substantially. Firstly, because there is effectively no air threat over Afghanistan or Iraq, and also because of the need to provide coalition ground forces with 24/7 close air support (CAS). Emphasis was therefore given to the types of missions required by Combatant Commanders in theatre. This meant less training time assigned to air combat training.

Replicating the needs of Combatant Commanders in a training programme, required a lot of night-time missions. Prior to deploying to CENTCOM, pilots need to be proficient at finding targets and tracking those that are mobile, using the AN/AAQ-28 Litening targeting pod for day and night-time operations. Approximately 80 per cent of the Wing’s recent training effort has been geared to that effort.

Operating in CENTCOM’s area of operations will involve a critical mission, providing support to coalition ground forces in Iraq.

Lt Col Brenton, Director of Operations for the 138th Fighter Squadron, told AFM: «We are focussed on what the mission specifics are going to be. That allows me to tailor the training programme for any type of mission encountered, based on feedback received from units that have previously deployed.»

The Wing’s training cycle is 20 months long, 16 for phased training and the final four in pre-deployment work-up. Instead of participating in Exercise Red Flag at Nellis AFB, Nevada, Air Combat Command’s primary simulated air war, the latest pre-deployment work-up was customised to Close Air Support-specific Large Force Exercises (LFEs) at Syracuse. The LFEs involved three other F-16 units within the Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) Rainbow Wing (see Tacklin the Taliban p26-31) and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACS). The JTACs provide ground-based forward Air Control and deploy with the Wing. During the LFEs, pilots and JTACS worked together on the types of missions that they were likely to encounter when deployed to CENTCOM.

Targeting pods

Many of the 30 pilots based at Syracuse have flown different versions of the F-16. They have varying levels of experience. Some are new to the F-16, others have almost 4,000 hours in the type. Consequently, the amount of experience on the Syracuse squadron overall is greater than a regular active-duty unit.

Prior to receiving the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, the majority of the 174th’s pilots were already qualified on other targeting pods. The Block 30s in use at Syracuse can operate with the original AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN system, the AN/AAQ-28 Utening II pod (the Air National Guard led the Air Force in purchasing the Litening) and now Sniper.

Col Anthony Basile, Commander of the 174th FW said: «We were the first Air Guard F-16 Wing to become operational with the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod. The hardware was congressionally directed to the 174th.”

Sniper ATP provides increased optical capability in terms of target acquisition and the distance from which the pilot can see the target. These capabilities were exploited by the 174th FW in tactical applications within the training programme.

Transition from operating Litening to Sniper is not that difficult for the pilot. According to Lt Col Brenton: «The engineers who designed Sniper did an exceptional job. It is almost a transparent transition process in respect of the switch action required to operate one pod versus another. There are some sub menus and specific capabilities that require additional training. This is accomplished using a static simulator, and by flying two sorties.»

Each pilot flies two missions to learn the basic functionality of Sniper, before employing the system within the normal training plan.

The AN/AAQ-33 Sniper pod has one disadvantage compared to Litening — it does not have a streaming video downlink capability to ROVER ground stations used by US ground forces — a capability much in demand by Combatant Commanders in CENTCOM. Consequently, the 174th FW will deploy Litening pods, which has this capability.

For the 174th FW, that represents a disappointment. It was the first Air National Guard F-16 Wing to reach initial operating capability with the Sniper. The 174th deploy to CENTCOM before Sniper will receive a streaming video data link capability in 2007 and is committed to using the Litening pod.

J-Series Weapons

Block 30 F-16Cs in operation at Syracuse can carry the latest versions of the joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). The aircraft are fitted with the latest software package suite installed as part of the F-16 software Capability Upgrade Program. Upgrading the avionics enables the ageing Block 30 airframe to carry the latest J-series weapons.

When the 113th Wing arrived in CENTCOM at the start of the current Rainbow Wing (see below) AEF rotation, it was the first time that Block 30 F-16s fitted with colour MFDs (multi-function displays), had deployed to the theatre. Those aircraft can carry the 2,000lb (907kg) GBU-31(V)1/B JDAM, a generic version of a Mk84 bomb, and the GBU-31(V)3/B, the penetrator version of a BLU-109 bomb.

The 174th FW became the first Block 30 Wing to employ the GBU-31 with Sniper ATP on Combat Hammer, Air Combat Commands’ Weapon System Evaluation Programme, in August 2005. The 174th FW deployed to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, to undertake Large Force Exercises with the resident 366th FW and Combat Hammer missions over the Utah Test and Training Range. Focus was given to employing JDAMs with the tactics to be used during the forthcoming AEF rotation. According to Lt Col Brenton, training has been focused on self-generating precise target co-ordinates from individual aircraft, rather than having to rely on another.

The Block 30 F-16 is the first version of the aircraft capable of dropping the 5001b (227kg) GBU-38 JDAM. Operational fielding of the GBU-38 on the Block 30 F-16 was approved in July 2004 and used in combat for the first time less than three months later by F-16s assigned to 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

In the future, Block 30 F-16s will be able to employ CBU-87 and CBU-97 Cluster Bomb Units fitted with the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD) tail kit. When fitted with the tail kits, each weapon takes a different designation; CBU-103 (CBU-87), used against armour and the CBU-105 (CBU-97), used against soft and area targets.

Rainbow deployment

The 174th FW is part of a composite or Rainbow Wing comprising the 113th Wing based at Andrews AFB, Maryland (the first unit to deploy) and the 114th FW based at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, all operating Block 30 F-16s fitted with General Electric F110-GE-100 turbofan engines.

Rainbow Wings usually comprise three units. Each unit deploys for 40 days of a 120-day AEF rotation. This latest deployment also involves a fourth unit — the 127th Wing based at Selfridge ANGB, Michigan, also operating Block 30 F-16s. Under the AEF allocation, the 127th Wing was originally scheduled to deploy in 2007 with two other units both operating Block 32 F-16s powered by Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-220 turbofan engines.

Operating two versions of the F-16, each with different engines within a single Air Expeditionary Wing causes additional and unnecessary logistical problems, so the 127th transferred to the Block 30 Rainbow Wing. With a fourth unit assigned, the Rainbow Wing will remain deployed for 160 days. Overall, the Air National Guard has a six-month AEF commitment, which is being undertaken by two rotations of four and two months respectively.

Future mission?

The 174th Fighter Wing did not face any realignment issues following the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations. The Wing’s F-16Cs, which are 23 years old, were described by Col Anthony Basile, Commander of the 174th FW: «Our jets are as capable as any out there. We upgrade them with something new every year, but at some point in the future they will be retired.»

Consequently, it is business as usual for the 174th FW at Syracuse. The US Air Force is studying a future mission for the unit, which might involve transition to the MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. A final funding decision for production of the Reaper is expected in 2009. Col Basile told AFM: «We have a mission right now and that is what the Wing is concentrating on.»

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