The 122nd Fighter Wing is going back to fighter aircraft.
Officials announced on Tuesday morning that the Air National Guard unit based in Fort Wayne, Ind., will have its A-10C aircraft, designed mainly for close support of ground forces, replaced by a newer version of the F-16 — the same aircraft the 122nd flew from 1991 through 2010.
The F-16s are likely to arrive here in the next three to five years, said Col. David Augustine, the commander of the 122nd. Although they will be familiar to the many pilots and maintenance workers who used F-16s here previously, they are newer and significantly better, Augustine said.
The F-16 Block 40 fighters will have improved landing gear and will be able to carry a larger payload of munitions. The planes will be able to operate as air-to-air fighters but also to support troops on the ground when necessary. A new capability in the coming F-16s will be the suppression of enemy air defenses; that is, destroying an enemy's ability to target anti-aircraft weapons in a fight.
Officials think a squadron, 18 aircraft, of F-16s will be based here.
About 150 men and women in uniform, plus elected officials, reporters and photographers, gathered to hear the announcement.
“It's also very exciting and encouraging to have the F-16s back,” said U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd. Stutzman noted that Indiana can't be exempt from the sacrifices of reducing the size and cost of government, but the state has already given up Fort Benjamin Harrison and an Air Guard wing based at Terre Haute. The military role of what was once Grissom Air Force Base has been sharply curtailed in the past 20 years as well.
Military officials made it clear that the restored F-16 should be step on the road to the next generation of fighter aircraft, the F-35. “We have a strategic future,” Augstine said, “a future as a fighter unit.”