Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guard F-15s, F-16s duel in skies over Montana

Guard F-15s, F-16s duel in skies over Montana: "Montana Air National Guard pilots built a good relationship with their Iowa Air National Guard counterparts in spring 2008, when the units deployed together to Iraq, both flying F-16s.Now they are engaged in two weeks of friendly combat training above the military operating area near Highwood. The exercise started Thursday and will continue through July 23, with as many as 10 aircraft in the sky at once.This time around, the Montana guard is flying the larger two-engine F-15 fighter jet against the Iowa Guard’s lighter, somewhat more maneuverable one-engine F-16.In fact, the difference in aircraft is the key point to the training exercise, called ‘dissimilar air-combat training,’ or DACT.‘It’s a big opportunity for us to do training competition with planes we don’t usually fly against,’ said Capt. Shawn Tapps, a pilot and scheduler with the Iowa guard. ‘At home, we usually train against other F-16s, and that’s not realistic combat experience. In real wartime, you’d fly against planes different than your own. The exercise gives us the opportunity to visualize while we’re flying what to do against a plane of different size and capabilities.’Lt. Col. Mike Buck, the Montana guard’s fighter squadron commander, agreed.Because the F-15 is an air-combat specialist designed to fight off more than one enemy plane, the Montana guard’s jets will be outnumbered by the Iowa guard’s F-16s during most of the exercises, he said.The Montana guard pilots are in an unusual situation. They flew F-16s for years and are relative newcomers behind the stick of the F-15s.Buck said he flew the F-16 for 18 years, but has been training with the F-15 during the past year. The Montana Air National Guard flew the F-16 for more than two decades before beginning its conversion to the F-15 in August.‘I’ve got 3,000 hours in the F-16, versus a whopping 65 hours in the F-15,’ he joked. ‘That gives me the knowledge of what to expect from the Iowa F-16 planes, if I can push my new F-15 skills to a high enough level.’Buck and Tapps contrasted the planes.Designed for shooting down enemy aircraft, the F-15 has far-reaching radar and carries twice as many missiles as the F-16, Buck said.The F-16 originally was designed to fly low and bomb enemy targets on land, Tapps said, but it has the versatility to fight air-to-air battles, too.Though bigger, the F-15 can maneuver almost as well as the F-16, especially at lower speeds, Buck said, ‘but that depends on the pilot’s stick and rudder skills and finesse.’During the DACT, the pilots will strut their planes’ stuff through mock air combat.‘The planes may start tens of miles apart and progress as close as 500 feet, at air speeds ranging from close to 1,000 mph to as slow as 150 mph,’ Buck said.Computer displays within the aircraft will project whether a missile would hit the rival plane if it were fired, depending on that plane’s maneuver. When a hit is projected, the ‘struck’ plane is told by radio to leave the scene.Sure, there’s a good-natured rivalry for bragging rights, both men said, but the exercise is mostly about training.Through the DACT, the Iowa guard is providing additional planes during training exercises that the Montana guard needs to be certified as a mission-ready wing, Buck said. With continued hard training, the Montana guard unit expects to be combat operational by about this time next year.Buck said both units benefit from the DACT training, noting the Iowa unit gets to fly ‘in our enormous, unmolested Big Sky air space.’Tapps readily agreed.‘Montana’s air space is phenomenal, unrestricted and huge,’ he said. ‘It allows for very lively, robust competition.’"

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

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