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104FW attend WIC at Nellis AFB

104th FW/PA

BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Massachusetts – Members of the 104th Fighter Wing attended the two-week USAF weapons school integration exercise from April 6, 2024, to April 20, 2024, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. This exercise combined multiple squadrons to test and determine the functionality of new air combat tactics through offensive and defensive counterair measures while using both fourth-generation and fifth-generation aircraft.

Members of the 104th Fighter Wing attend USAF weapons school integration exercise, April 6, 2024, to April 20, 2024, at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada. This exercise combined multiple squadrons to test and determine the functionality of new air combat tactics through offensive and defensive counterair measures while using both fourth-generation and fifth-generation aircraft.


Maj. James ‘Mongoose’ Hurley, 131st Fighter Squadron Weapons Officer, stressed the significance of the exercise through the potential for fourth generation fighter units to provide air combat support to fifth-generation aircraft for future missions.


“We received an invite from the 433rd Weapons Squadron and the 17th Weapons Squadron there for the F-22 Raptor and F-15E Strike Eagle, respectively,” said Hurley. “Our role within the exercise was to integrate with them to focus on advanced-threat defensive counterair the first week and offensive counterair the second week. Overall, our goal here was to provide the sensor, as well as the fourth-generation role in that against fourth and fifth-generation fighter integration.”
Providing fourth-generation fighter F-15 support in the exercise effectively enables the Air Force to practice and analyze the validity of the new air tactics listed in the Air, Land, Sea, and Space application fighter integration doctrine. This also enables the weapons school students at Nellis to learn these new tactics and be able to teach them to their respective future units when they graduate.


“Helping to be the platform that validates the new tactics, whether its operational tests or the weapons school is great,” said Hurley. “But when you bring in units like us who are going to be the ones to get called on to do it, it’s crucial we have invaluable experience in practicing it.”
By having as many as 25-30 sorties per day, the Air Force can effectively analyze how fourth-generation fighters can provide critical support to fifth-generation fighters through combat and tactics integration.


“While the fifth-generation fighters are certainly capable, they are limited in their gas and missiles,” said Hurley. “If we talk about how fourth-generation can to enable that, we have extra missiles, extra sensors that we can use to support them, in so doing making everyone more lethal and survivable than they would be if they were doing so standalone.”
The exercise provided the 104FW with valuable lessons and experience in practicing integrating with the weapons school students and having the ability to sit through their brief, debrief, and mission planning. Through this integration, the Air Force is better equipped to test, validate, and adjust.
“It’s definitely a valuable experience to get to learn the latest tactics they’re coming out with from the weapons school,” said Hurley. “The validation of the new tactics manual and just learning exactly how best to do it with the changes happening daily as we progress and work our way closer to what looks right. Overall, this was the most useful temporary duty assignment I’ve been on, tactically speaking since I’ve been here.”

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End of an Era: 173rd FW trains the last F-15 Eagle Instructor Pilots

By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson

The journey begins at Undergraduate Pilot Training or maybe long, long before, but for this account an Air Force pilot starts the road to the cockpit at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, in the T-6 Texan, a 1,200 horsepower propeller-driven trainer. From there, they have to find their way in a T-38 supersonic jet trainer, if they make the cut for fighter aircraft.

A fledgling fighter-pilot-in-the-making then heads to Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio—a quick primer, smoothing the transition to warfighting aircraft.

Some of these students track to the F-15 and travel to Kingsley Field to test themselves against the 173rd Fighter Wing B-Course and learn to fly the Eagle, the venerated fighter aircraft boasting an undefeated combat record and bearing the moniker WGASF—world’s greatest air superiority fighter.

None of this is easy, but once a student steps into the ranks of Eagle drivers it’s time to relax, having arrived at their goal … right?

“No. Never,” says Capt. Andrew Marshall, an F-15 pilot with the 550th Fighter Squadron, with a laugh.

Marshall has navigated this path over the last seven years, since graduating from the University of Colorado ROTC program, and is now making his way into the ranks of F-15C instructor pilots at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Capt. Andrew Marshall, an F-15C pilot with the 550th Fighter Squadron, suits up for another sortie on his way to becoming a rated instructor pilot in the Eagle, at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, Jan. 18, 2024. He and one other pilot are the last two selected in the U.S. Air Force to receive this upgrade training, signaling the end of an era as future pilots at the 173rd Fighter Wing will convert to the F-35 airframe. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

“I’m hoping to get it done within six months, that’s my personal goal,” he said. “But there’s a lot of other factors—TDYs, weather—all those different things can get in the way of keeping the momentum going. It definitely is a period where you’re just working, working, working…you’re studying all the time.”

He says there are 11 thresholds to cross to become a rated instructor pilot beginning with close-range dogfighting and progressing to a very broad scenario involving many aircraft performing defensive counter-air and everything in between, and a couple of “top-off” events following that.

“I’ve made it through the first two events so far, and it took me seven flights to do it,” adding that the syllabus somewhat mirrors that of his first years at Kadena Air Base, getting his flight lead ratings cumulating with a mission commander upgrade where he controlled 20 fighter aircraft, two tankers and an AWACS.

“It was intense, probably the most stressful experience of my Air Force career,” he said.

He’ll do it again and the difference this time will be one of fine-tuning.

“Now you’re doing it at a higher level,” he explains. “It’s much more refinement in how you go through the instructor upgrade; now you have to be able to not only understand and do it yourself but you have to convey that knowledge and execute it in a way that shows credibility as an instructor.”

apt. Andrew Marshall, an F-15C pilot with the 550th Fighter Squadron, steps to his jet along with two other pilots on a chilly January morning, Jan. 18, 2024, at Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon. He is working his way through the process to become a rated instructor pilot in the Eagle, and will be one of the two last to accomplish this as the Air Force transitions away from the venerable fighter to the F-35. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson)

It’s a new process for him, but many have gone before him over nearly four decades of service from the Eagle. He and one other pilot are likely the last.

The Air Force at-large has divested itself of nearly all F-15 Eagle aircraft, most recently deactivating squadrons at Kadena Air Base and transferring those aircraft to the Air National Guard, rendering the future need for instructor pilots minimal. But as with any program there are always the final students.

Marshall says this career trajectory suits him very well and he feels it positions him well for a likely airframe conversion to the F-35 Lightning II, which is slated to arrive at Kingsley Field in 2026 .

He sums up his career choice saying, “It’s one of the best jobs in the world and you have some of the best camaraderie with your pilots and your fellow servicemembers.”

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Happy New Year

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F-15EX Eagle IIs to be based at Kadena AB

STARS AND STRIPES • December 19, 2023

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The Air Force is considering a plan to permanently replace its aging fleet of F-15 Eagle fighters on Okinawa with a smaller number of more advanced aircraft, a Japanese news magazine reported recently.

The Air Force informed lawmakers on Capitol Hill that it plans to permanently deploy 36 F-15EX Eagle II fighters at Kadena Air Base to replace the 48 F-15C/Ds previously stationed there, Nikkei Asia reported Monday, citing unnamed congressional sources briefed on the plan.

The multi-role F-15EX fighters, derived from the F-15E Strike Eagle, could be bolstered by unmanned drones.

Some lawmakers and scholars expressed concerns about the message a smaller permanent fighter presence would send to allies and potential adversaries in the region, the news magazine reported.

“I support a permanent basing of F-15EX aircraft at Kadena but am concerned about the Air Force’s initial plan to station only 36 new aircraft, replacing the 48 divested ones,” Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told the outlet. Wittman, vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he wants to see an “operational analysis” that supports the decision, Nikkei said.

A representative for Wittman did not return calls and emails Monday from Stars and Stripes.

Zack Cooper, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Nikkei that the decrease will “raise some eyebrows.”

The Air Force is halfway through a two-year plan to replace Kadena’s 48 F-15C/D fighters of the 44th and 67th Fighter Squadrons with rotating squadrons of more modern aircraft, including the fifth-generation F-35A and F-15E Strike Eagles.

Some F-15s from Kadena went to Air National Guard units in the United States or to the Air Force boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.

The upgrade comes as tensions increase between the U.S. and China, a regional power the Pentagon has labeled an aggressive presence in the East and South China Seas and a global “pacing challenge,” according to the 2022 National Defense Strategy.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force declined to discuss the permanent deployment of fighters to Kadena.

“We continue to support the region with rotational fighters,” spokeswoman Ann Stefanek wrote by email Monday.

Jeffrey Hornung, a senior political scientist at Rand Corp., said having fewer fighters in one place is in line with the Air Force’s dispersal doctrine, agile combat employment. Agile combat employment calls for operations to shift from centralized air hubs to a network of smaller, dispersed sites or cluster bases.

Deploying fewer aircraft “is perhaps just them thinking, ‘OK, we will have access someplace in the region, whether that be Japan, Philippines, wherever,’” he told Stars and Stripes by phone Monday. “You don’t want to put everything back into Kadena.”

Toshiyuki Shikata, a former lieutenant general in the Ground Self-Defense Force, agreed.

“It is better to have improved aircraft than keeping the aircraft with inferior quality in larger quantity,” Shikata said by phone Tuesday. “I believe the replacement will take place in a way that keeps deterrence.”

Permanently deploying Eagle IIs, even in fewer numbers, would show a U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan, Junjiro Shida, an associate professor of international politics at Meio University on Okinawa, said by phone Tuesday.

“Japan and the U.S. are developing a structure to jointly operate,” he said.

The F-15EX, made by Boeing, arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in March 2021. A two-seat aircraft operable by a single pilot, it comes with increased payload capacity and advanced avionics. It can carry hypersonic weapons designed to combat future near-peer adversaries.

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MISSION READY

INSIDE THE BEST FIGHTER SQUADRON OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE

If you are looking for a thrilling Christmas gift, what better that one of the best F-15 Eagle related books

Mission Ready is a visual narrative about a world that’s not accessible to most of us. Until now. Documentary photographer and creative director Patrick van Dam gives us a realistic and uncensored insight into the “Best Fighter Squadron of the U.S. Air Force”. Through compelling images, he offers an insider perspective of the legendary 493rd Fighter Squadron’s daily operations. This is not Top Gun. This is better. This is real.

From 2016 to 2021, Van Dam was granted access to several restricted military airbases and experienced first-hand what it takes to be a fighter pilot during a training mission in an F-15 Eagle. His contemporary photography is never shy of demystifying a sometimes romanticized world, yet always with an aesthetic point of view.

The photographs are complemented by stories from prominent “Grim Reapers” like Gulf War veteran and three-time “MiG Killer” Col. (Ret.) Cesar “Rico” Rodriguez. The result is a gripping book about an organization with unspoken rules and principles that takes pride in its honor and bravery.

The 493rd Fighter Squadron, also known as the “Grim Reapers”, is a combat mission-ready squadron and provides air-to-air offensive and defensive support for the United States and NATO operations. It is part of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), located at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom. The 493rd was the last squadron in Europe flying the F-15 Eagle. Since 1994, they have conducted air superiority missions in the Balkans, Middle East, and Baltics. Since 1994, the 493rd has been awarded the coveted Raytheon Trophy for being the top Air Superiority Squadron of the U.S. Air Force, no less than six times. A unique and unconquered achievement.

In 2022, the squadron transitioned to the new 5th-generation F-35A Lightning II, marking the end of an era for the presence of the F-15 Eagle in Europe.

What are you waiting for, get this unique book and click on “MISSION READY “ to order your copy now! Enjoy