MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Pilots and maintainers at Misawa are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first batch of retrofitted “Wild Weasels” due back Monday after extensive upgrades at Hill Air Force Base depot in Utah.

But when the three F-16CJ fighter jets land on the tarmac, the real work begins.

“It will take a lot of work; it will take a lot of practice; it will take a lot of training,” said 35th Operations Group Commander Col. Michael Boera. “It will take a lot of work not only on the pilots’ part but on the maintainers’ part to keep this stuff working.”

The “stuff” Boera refers to is high-tech, computer-driven and expensive — hardware and software components that will make the F-16 superior in combat, officials say, giving aviators greater situational awareness and the tools to more quickly identify, respond to and eliminate a threat.

Misawa’s F-16 Wild Weasels are the first fighters in the Pacific Air Forces to go through the Common Configuration Implementation Program, or CCIP, which Boera says marks the most significant upgrade to the F-16 since its 1979 introduction to the Air Force.

In all, about 650 F-16s active in the Air Force and Air National Guard will receive CCIP (pronounced “see-sip”) avionics improvements at an estimated cost of $1.6 billion, according to a news release from Lockheed Martin, the prime CCIP contractor.

Misawa is rotating pilots and jets back to the United States for the program two to four planes at a time, Boera said. The 13th Fighter Squadron will get its aircraft upgraded and pilots trained first; the 14th Fighter Squadron is slated to begin its rotation in November, Boera said. Misawa has 40 aircraft and 69 pilots scheduled for CCIP, a process that should finish by May. Maintainers also are being trained in the United States on how to fix the new components.

About a third of the 13th Fighter Squadron’s pilots have received some CCIP training on simulators and upgraded fighters back in the United States, including Lt. Col. Hugh Hanlon, the squadron’s commander, who spent four weeks at McEntire Air National Guard Base in Columbia, S.C.

“At first it’s a little overwhelming,” Hanlon said of the training, “but the learning curve goes up pretty fast. It’s getting used to using new sensors and organizing the cockpit so it’s friendly to the pilot.”

Training at Misawa will focus on adapting new capabilities to combat scenarios, Hanlon said. He said CCIP makes the F-16 capable of fighting conventional, symmetrical threats, such as big armies and large air forces, as well as the unconventional, nonsymmetrical threats that have emerged in recent years, to include weapons of mass destruction and rogue states.

Hanlon is most excited about the Link-16 and the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System, two of the more revolutionary CCIP improvements, he said. The first adversary that gains sight usually has the advantage, Hanlon said, and the new helmets “allow us to keep our head outside the cockpit more. When we have to look inside the cockpit, they could be firing missiles on you.”

The helmet cueing system directs weapons and sensors to the pilot’s line of sight. Vital information such as altitude, air speed and weapons-ranging information is displayed in the helmet visor, always in view even when pilots look from side to side.

Previously, pilots scanned a “heads-up display” for this information located straight ahead in the cockpit. “Now that heads-up display will rotate with our head, every time we look around,” Boera said. The cueing system, along with new AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, enable fliers to “cue” boresight weapons on a target with their eyes “as opposed to us having to turn our aircraft around,” Boera said. “It’s a phenomenal capability.”

Other CCIP upgrades include:

• Link-16: A jam-resistant, secure communications system that allows the F-16 to exchange data with other air and ground assets, according to the Lockheed Martin publication “Code One” magazine. The Defense Department designated Link-16 as its primary tactical datalink and it’s to be used across numerous military platforms designed to meet NATO requirements. Boera said Link-16 will ease “the fog of war” caused by communication jams, either from the enemy or too much chatter on the radio. With this technology, “a data burst comes up and boom, ‘OK, I know exactly what that is.’ The key is I’m taking real-time information that we are gathering in, say, an air ops center, and I’m getting it to the fighter pilot, the bomber pilot, the Predator, the Global Hawk, you name it,” Boera said, noting that some U.S. aircraft already use Link-16.

• Air-to-air interrogator: A radar sensor that can help an aviator identify whether another aircraft is friend or foe. “We need to know that what we are shooting at is hostile,” Boera said.

• Color multifunctional display in the cockpit: The color- coded features replace the monochrome green cockpit display to help pilots manage data and discriminate threats at a glance. “It’s faster interpretation of information presented on our avionics,” Hanlon said. “I can look at something and if it’s red, I know it’s bad; if it’s blue, it might be a good guy.”

• Targeting pod: Allows pilots to identify tactical targets at a greater distance. The F-16 already can locate and suppress a radar-guided surface-to-air missile site with its HARM targeting system; the targeting pod addition will give the pilot a magnified picture of the SAM site, Boera said, enabling him to direct a laser-guided bomb to destroy the target. In the past, the F-16 CJ “would find the SAM site; we could suppress it,” Boera said, “but we might need other assets to strike it if we wanted to kill it. Now we can do that on our own.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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