Gunfighters first to drop laser guided bombs at Yankee

  • Published
  • By SSgt Phil Fountain
  • 149FW Public Affairs
Air National Guard F-16s assigned to the 182nd Fighter Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, became the first to deploy the GBU-12 and GBU-38 guided bombs on the Yankee Range, located within the McMullen Target Complex in South Texas. McMullen is owned by the U.S. Navy, but the Yankee Range is operated by Texas Air National Guard personnel. In addition to Lackland, the complex accommodates Navy, Air Force and Air National Guard flight training from Naval Air Station Kingsville, and Randolph and Laughlin Air Force bases, located in San Antonio and Del Rio, respectively. The 4,000-acre Yankee Range has operated since 1967, but could only accept inert high-drag and low-drag munitions up to this point. Capt. Eric Hoopes, acting commander for Det. 1 at Yankee, said to accept guided ordinance, they were required to "certify the new weapons delivery parameters to keep the danger zone footprint completely confined to the range boundary." Coordination with the Navy and the National Guard Bureau was necessary to ensure a proper explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) process was put in place to reclaim the newly deployed munitions. The GBU-12 is a laser guided bomb (LGB) that allows the pilot, a separate aircraft, or an airman or soldier in the field to laser site a target which will lock in the LGB's destination. The GBU-38 is a joint direct attack munition (JDAM) that has a guidance package that uses a global positioning system, or GPS, to convert a traditional bomb into a precision guided bomb. Laser technology improves accuracy and reduces the number of bombs required to eliminate a single target in battle. Capt. Hoopes noted these munitions are being dropped in theater and can now be "dropped in our backyard" on realistic training missions. South Texas has been an optimal location for military flight training since 1910, when Fort Sam Houston became the birthplace of military aviation. Lt. Col. Kevin Tarrant, Chief of Standardization and Evaluation for the 149th Operations Group, which includes the 182nd Fighter Squadron, said the weather is conducive and that the range and military airspace allow for flexible training opportunities. Since 1999, the 182nd Fighter Squadron has been a flight training unit within the U.S. Air Force's Air Education and Training Command. Students include basic pilots, active-duty and Air Guard, that are new to the F-16, and those transitioning back to the airframe, to include a separate course for senior officers. Colonel Tarrant added that the new weapons training ability will benefit the students, weapons loaders, and instructor cadre to meet the unit's vision of producing F-16 pilots capable of engaging and destroying the enemy anywhere in the world. Basic students can be placed in a real-world combat situation within a year from graduation. Capt. Keith Krejchik, a Wisconsin Air National Guard F-16 instructor pilot is undergoing upgrade training with the 182nd Fighter Squadron, and described how this new capability has improved his training. He said each munition has a different G-Load for the aircraft, and flying with them is something to get used to. Without the Yankee Range's new capability, they would have to simulate dropping these weapons, which is far different from the real thing. Assigned to the Air Force's Air Combat Command, Capt. Krejchik and his fellow Wisconsin pilots are a part of the Air Expeditionary Force (AEF), and will likely deploy again to the Middle East within 18 months. As for aircraft maintenance, CMSgt Rick Pena, Chief of the 149th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said adding the new munitions "affects [weapons] loading and scheduling of maintenance, but that it will be largely business as usual." Maintainers will continue to adjust to the flying schedule, regardless of its configuration, which is part of normal operations. Weapons loaders, who are responsible for ensuring munitions are properly attached to the aircraft, and capable of launching on command, welcome the added training. SMSgt Anthony Jackson, the Ordinance Systems Superintendent for the 149th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, described the change of pace the new missions will provide, adding that changing munitions will allow loaders to "break up the monotony" of repetitious loads. While weapons load crews are required to maintain certification on loading procedures for each munition in the unit's inventory, Sergeant Jackson thinks adding the GBU-12 and GBU-38 laser guided munitions to regular training missions will lead to greater proficiency and efficiency for the 3-person weapons load crews. There is a sense of optimism around the Air National Guard unit regarding the benefits of the enhanced training. It has allowed the 182nd Fighter Squadron to improve their course syllabus by conducting local training that previously required deployment to another location. Col. Kenneth Nereson, commander of the 149th Fighter Wing, which oversees the 182nd Fighter Squadron, noted that the expanded capability of the Yankee Range can "ultimately pave the way for the unit to continue combat flight training long into the future."