AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
For the first time in 14 years, the 31st Fighter Wing had the opportunity to conduct F-16C Fighting Falcon air-to-air live fire training employment within the United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa (USAFE) area of responsibility, July 9-16, 2021.
Five F-16s and 36 U.S. Airmen assigned to the 510th Fighter Squadron (FS) and 555th FS conducted live fire air-to-air missile launches with F-15E Strike Eagles from the 494th and 492nd Fighter Squadrons assigned to Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath, England. The training was in coordination with the Aberporth Range Complex in northwestern Wales.
“This program allocates missiles to various squadrons in USAFE,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Johannes Weinberg, 555th FS F-16 pilot. “The 31st FW team fired a total of 4 AIM-9LM Sidewinders.”
While at the range, the F-16s fired at flares towed by a Mirach 100 drone.
“The flare provided the heat signature that the infrared missile tracked and guided on,” said Weinberg.
The 31st FW F-16s also had the opportunity to integrate with F-15E and F-15Cs assigned to RAF Lakenheath and execute low-level flight training within the United Kingdom low altitude environment.
The completion of this training contributes to the 31st FW’s always increasing combat readiness through Agile Combat Employment (ACE) operations.
“The 555th FS was split concurrently between a temporary duty (TDY) in Bulgaria and Lakenheath, which emulates how a unit would deploy to multiple locations in an ACE scenario,” said Weinberg. “In Lakenheath, as few resources as possible were brought. We tried to use all the resources that we could at Lakenheath, and when Lakenheath did not have a solution; it forced us to innovate. Furthermore, we were able to employ live weapons supplied and loaded from an off station base.”
The most memorable moment for Weinberg was when the missile was shot from his F-16, he continued.
“It’s a rare opportunity to have something fly off of your airplane that you can actively watch as it guides on its target then spears a flare in a cloud of fire,” said Weinberg.
The 31st FW plans to participate in future live fire air-to-air training employment events, in turn strengthening the relations for further weapon employment opportunities within USAFE.
“The USAFE allocation of AIM-9LMs is an annual process that we will likely participate in again,” said Weinberg.
Weinberg said that not many fighter pilots have the opportunity to participate in a live fire air-to-air training employment event and this was his first time employing an air-to-air missile.
“The experience was enlightening and exciting,” said Weinberg. “It was the most adrenaline that has pumped through my blood since first flying the F-16. Employing air-to-air missiles is something we practice on almost every training sortie and it is now something I feel more confident in, if I had to employ one in combat.”