Fighter Squadrons 'switch hats' for multi-role capability

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The military lifestyle is all-inclusive of late nights, long shifts, and more often than not, living out of a backpack on weeks-long temporary duty. For the hard-working Airmen of the 13th Fighter Squadron, that reality is all too familiar.

Two weeks ago, the 13th FS flew nearly 24 hours from their first TDY at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, to Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea for TDY number two, beginning another month of hard, but different, tactics work.

“We swapped places but we've let our assets remain where they were after moving them from Misawa,” said Maj. Matthew Sabraw, the 13th FS assistant director of operations. “It saves money, wear and tear on the jets and battery power for our people.”

This offers a diverse dynamic for Misawa’s fighter squadrons. Normally, 13th FS pilots work with 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit maintainers and 14th FS pilots work with their AMU. In Kunsan and Alaska, squadrons are now proving their internal interoperability to complete the mission.

“The 13th pilots seem to be very appreciative working with us,” said Airman 1st Class Matthew Thompson, 14th AMU crew chief. “We're putting a lot of work into ensuring their aircraft are fit to fly. We had to adjust our maintenance schedules to help them out and our efforts did not go unnoticed by the pilots.”

In addition to the swap, the mission-sets are also different, therefore optimizing training opportunities to ensure the highest level of readiness for maintaining security and stability throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

“The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a prolific multi-role fighter,” said Sabraw. “We practiced a lot of suppression to enemy air defenses missions and basic surface attack sorties targeting things on the ground [in Alaska]. Now, we're switching hats, [turning] on our air-to-air [mindsets] and training in the closed-in arena for basic fighter maneuvering here at Kunsan.”

According to Sabraw, SEAD missions lack the human element that air-to-air missions hold; SEAD is pilot versus machine while the latter is pilot versus pilot.

“Over the course of training and after doing it for a few years, it [SEAD] becomes instinctive,” Sabraw explained. “But during air-to-air you're then pitting your instincts against the instincts of another fighter pilot in a very challenging, high-G environment.”

In the midst of all the tireless work, the 13th FS did not forget to take care of its support personnel, who were given unique opportunities to experience the G-forces for themselves while TDY.

“We're such a large Air Force, and only a small percentage of people ever have the chance to fly in an F-16,” explains Airman 1st Class Tyler Keifer, a 13th FS aviation resource management journeyman. “It's a great opportunity here where we can give familiarization flights and people can step into a jet and see first-hand what pilots do on a daily basis.”

Even with a second seat being filled, pilots are still tasked with pushing boundaries and refining their skills.

“We have more opportunities to do some creative things out here,” concluded Sabraw. “We're getting more repetition and it's definitely honing in on our skills and increasing our level of theater resiliency.”

The 35th Fighter Wing Wild Weasels will remain in Kunsan until early July once runway construction finishes at Misawa Air Base.