14th Fighter Squadron's Falcons are prepped for support role in Iraq
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — In the homestretch prior to going to war, Misawa’s 14th Fighter Squadron is practicing missions more typical of a warthog than a falcon.
In lightning-quick jets more accustomed to suppressing enemy air defenses, Misawa’s aviators expect to provide ground forces with close air support when they deploy to Iraq in less than a month.
And although the smaller and faster F-16 “Fighting Falcon” has a smaller gun and fewer weapons than the A-10 Thunderbolt II — a single-seat, twin-engine jet nicknamed the “Warthog” that’s designed to support combat troops by attacking armored vehicles and other ground targets — the 14th’s leadership isn’t worried about the different mission profile.
“ … We’re still pretty effective,” said Lt. Col. Ken Madura, 14th Fighter Squadron director of operations.
He said it with confidence after seeing some of the high-tech tools that will aid the fighter pilots while in Iraq and after working with the airmen who will help the pilots use the technology.
About 20 joint terminal air controllers from Wheeler Army Air Field, Hawaii, finished 10 days of training last week with the 14th and 13th fighter squadrons at Misawa.
“These guys are the link between the Air Force and the Army, essentially,” Madura said. “These guys know how to talk to airplanes; they know how to talk to the Army.”
In Iraq, the air controllers communicate with soldiers and fighter pilots to help the pilot hone in on a ground target.
“It’s not just them talking on the radio,” Madura said. “They have a lot of toys, too.”
Through the targeting pod, the pilot and the air controller can share real-time video of the target area.
“We usually try to position ourselves where we can see the target,” said Tech. Sgt. James Weeder, 25th Air Support Operations Squadron operations superintendent at Wheeler. Looking at the video link from the plane on a laptop, the air controller directs the targeting pod.
“We tell the pilot move it to the right, to the left … until it has crosshairs on it — ‘OK, that’s your target,’” Weeder said.
The targeting pod enables the pilot to look at a vehicle-size target with ease, Madura said. Misawa’s fliers could be tasked to protect a convoy from a roadside bomb by searching a route in advance for suspicious people, Madura said, as one example.
Another possible scenario is helping soldiers in an enemy ambush, he said.
The 14th Fighter Squadron has been prepping since August for its deployment, changing its training focus from suppression of enemy air defenses to close-air support, Madura said.
“We’ve practiced it as much as we can by ourselves,” he said. “Having a professional controller … is a big asset for us.”
Another advantage: Some of the same controllers training the pilots will be in Iraq at the same time as the 14th, Weeder said.
“Hopefully, we’ll know what each other is thinking when we do talk on the radio in the AEF,” Madura said.
Added Weeder: “A mark [is] worth a thousand words.”