Airmen of the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing are on their last deployment to Southwest Asia with the F-16 fighter. On their return, they begin the changeover to another type of strike aircraft—the hunter-killer MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle. The Syracuse-based airmen will be the first Air Guardsmen to take up the MQ-9 mission, courtesy of BRAC 2005 and the Air Force’s Total Force game plan. “The only way that we can keep our hand in the fight … is that we transition to a future weapons system, and that’s the MQ-9,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Lunderman, who is commanding the 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. It will take about nine months for the unit’s Viper pilots to learn their new UAV roles and four months to train sensor operators, normally enlisted airmen, but Lunderman noted there is no equivalent job in the 174th FW right now. Although Lunderman is positive the wing will accomplish the switch, he said it could be a challenge to find airmen for the sensor ops position and corollary satellite communications systems and imagery intelligence jobs. The wing’s F-16 maintainers recognize the unit’s survival depends on the switch, according to SMSgt. James Davison, the unit’s maintenance operations center superintendent, but he said, “It will be a sad day when the last F-16 departs Hancock Field, because with it will be many memories and some top-notch maintainers.” (Balad report by SSgt. Don Branum)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.