USAF 14th FS – F-16CMs WILD WEASELS GO DOWNUNDER By Phil Buckley
During Pitch Black 2016 held in August at RAAF Darwin, DUAN was given access to the 14th FS, 35th FW, USAF. This specialised unit is normally based at Misawa Air Force Base, Japan but the Squadron was deployed to Darwin for Pitch Black 2016 to train with regional allies. In getting to Australia the long 5,400km approx the F-16CM’s trip were supported by USAF KC-135 and in a first, they also tanked from the RAAF KC-30A tankers.
Under the leadership of Lt Col Mark “Chainsaw” Huskinveld, the 14th FS brought to the exercise its expertise in Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) which harks back to the Vietnam War era famous “Wild Weasels” mission of degrading the opponents Surface to Air Missile (SAM) capabilities. The old Weasels of 1960s to 1990s eras used F-100F, F-105F/Gs, F-4Cs and F-4G before the mission technology was miniaturised to fit onto the F-16 Viper airframe and operations.
Lt Col Huskinveld explained to the media how the first week of the exercise saw the squadron adapt to the Australian airspace, learn the range and Australian airspace procedures and then begin over next few weeks to integrate and operate in the strike formations of allied aircraft. Most air forces now use what is becoming known as the crawl, walk, run approach which builds up the pilot’s ability to operate in new environments, when they are training overseas.
Utilising F-16CM Block 40 and 50 series aircraft which carry the Harm Targeting System (HTS), the 14th FS were in Darwin to provide SEAD escort to the air packages as they headed down the range along with some counter air work.
The mission task assigned to the pilots and their F-16s are generally “first in and last out” and this means they enable the fighting force to then get through once SAM sites and radars have been disabled or removed altogether. The unit also has a secondary role as a counter air unit which would involve suppression of enemy aircraft.
The main mission task assigned to the pilots and their F-16s when operating in SEAD is generally “first in and last out”. This role involves the F-16 pilots seeking out and this radars sites at SAM sites. They then attack and aim to disable or destroy SAM site radars.
Once the enemy radars are destroyed, this then enables the following main strike force the ability to penitrate enemy airspace without worrying about SAMs and AAA.The unit also has a secondary role as a counter air unit which would involve suppression of enemy aircraft.
The unit also has a secondary role as a counter air unit which would involve suppression of enemy aircraft. When in Australia over the Delamere range, the 14 FS operated with the RAAF on missions, where RAAF F/A-18s provided top cover while the F-16s went in for the SAM sites.
Closely working together where the F-16 pilots are focused on taking out radars means they put the trust in the RAAF to locate and attack any enemy fighters that may come to intercept the leading section of the air strikes.
This training helps builds up mutual relationships between US and RAAF aircrews and also helps in devising more integrated formation tactics.
The “old” Weasels used F-100F Super Sabres, F-105F/Gs Thundercheifs, F-4Cs and F-4G Phantoms airframes before the mission technology was miniaturised to fit into the F-16 Viper airframe and operations.
The old Weasels used starting in the 1960s the AGM-45 Shrikes, AGM-78 Standards and the range of Mk 80 dumb bombs as their main weapons of choice. As the detection technology developed by the late 1970s and early 1980s, these were complemented by newer weapons like earlier versions of the AGM-65 Maverick and the much feared and still in use anti radar missile AGM-88 HARM came into use.
Its all good having weapons but you need to detect the enemy before you can shoot. The modern day Weasels differ from the Weasels of old by having just a simple HTS (Harm Targeting System) pod attached to the airframe.
Older Weasel aircraft had built their systems either into airframe or had much larger detection systems attached to the fuselage from which they could detect enemy radar emissions and missile launches.
These older systems also required a back seat or “bear” as they became known to operate the detection systems and steer the pilot onto the targets. With new technology, this is all done by just an F-16 pilot.
The Pitch Black exercise operations meant that the RAAF enjoyed having the USAF Vipers in the country for the first time and based on what we saw, we should hopefully expect this training will continue in future exercises.
This integration of Wild Weasels will help enable building closer relationships and exchanging information between the RAAF’s new EA-18G Growlers and the USAF Wild Weasels.
DUAN was also able to witness 2 lots of flights from 14th FS formate off the RAAF KC-30 tanker during a media flight.
DUAN thanks the USAF 14 FS and the RAAF Public Affairs teams for making this visit possible.