The current, February, issue of AFM features an interview with Colonel R Scott Jobe, the commander of the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan, plus some fabulous air-to-air imagery from Jim Haseltine.
While the suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) mission hasn’t been a mainstay of long-running campaigns in Afghanistan and the Middle East, it continues to be a core capability for the US Air Force. Today, nine USAF squadrons that fly the Block 50/52 F-16CM/DM specialise in the role. Two of those squadrons – the 13th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Panthers’ and the 14th FS ‘Samurais’ – are found at Misawa.
With a switch in focus from air campaigns against insurgent foes without sophisticated air defence systems to countering ‘near-peer’ threats, defence suppression shows no signs of going away any time soon. Indeed, the expanding anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities of many potential enemies arguably make the Wild Weasel assignment more important than ever, and last year the USAF extended the life of every F-16 to 12,000 hours, ensuring the jets will continue to grace Misawa’s apron for many years to come.
The SEAD mission has continued to develop in recent years to keep pace with the ‘double-digit’ surface-to-air missile threat (denoting Russian-made systems from the SA-10 Grumble upwards), and the Misawa F-16s are no exception, as Col Jobe observed: “The SEAD mission has evolved as technological upgrades have been implemented, and the pilots operating the aircraft have also further developed their training and tactics to improve their own capabilities in the aircraft in support of the mission. Misawa F-16s are small, powerful, extremely agile fighters that can hold their own against any currently fielded fighter.”
Centrepiece of the SAM-killing F-16CM/DM is its AN/ASQ-213 HARM Targeting System (HTS), a pod-mounted sensor found under the right side of the aircraft’s intake. In a dense threat environment, the HTS works extremely efficiently at detecting and classifying threats. In fact, the combination of the F-16 and HTS is so accurate in pinpointing a threat that a high-explosive bomb can be put squarely on to the radar-emitting target, theoretically obviating the need to use a precious AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile).
“Combined with the HARM Targeting System, the jets become the perfect platform to suppress and destroy enemy SAM systems bringing precise and lethal fires to the battlespace,” Col Jobe continued. “Unfortunately, enemy surface-to-air systems have become increasingly advanced, jeopardising our ability to gain and maintain air superiority – the bottom line is we are losing our technological edge, putting lives at risk. Moreover, without air superiority the joint force at large is at risk.”