Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams
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Take 12 advanced F-16C fighters, fly them halfway around the world to a remote location, and then provide combat-capable aircraft with a minimum of personnel, equipment and facilities for an indefinite period of time. That is the challenge facing the maintenance personnel of the 181st Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard (ANG) unit based in Terre Haute, Ind., deployed (as of this writing) overseas in support of Operation Northern Watch (ONW).
A mix of ANG, active duty U.S. Air Force and NATO aircraft covers Northern Watch. Typically three ANG F-16 units share responsibility for a 90-day rotation, with each unit rotating in every 30 days, and each unit sending a few aircraft that stay for the whole rotation. Operation Southern Watch is handled in a similar fashion.
The 181st is equipped with F-16C Block 30s that are among the best-equipped and most capable aircraft in the USAF inventory. While high-performance fighters don't log the flight hours that commercial transports do -- fighters are considered high time at 2,000 flight hours, civil airliners are barely broken in at 2,000 hours -- they have their own unique set of stresses. The average F-16 routinely is subjected to 9 Gs, is powered by one augmented (afterburning) turbofan engine creating 28,000 pounds of thrust and carries five tons of fuel, ordnance and equipment under the wings. It is easy to see maintenance challenges.
The basic job of maintaining these aircraft in the field is not that much different than back home, but the environment is different. The base is ringed with multiple rows of razor wire fencing, guard and observation towers. Anti-aircraft guns and missile systems also are a common sight. Bunkers abound, as do the special aircraft shelters. Getting on and off the base requires a special pass and the whole perimeter is illuminated at night. Small arms fire is heard regularly, as are some heavier weapons, as security forces keep up marksmanship skills in a high threat environment.
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