By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Oct. 31, 2001) -- Aircraft with a very diverse range of missions fly here as part of Operation Northern Watch. Like a prize fighter surrounds himself with a posse of bodyguards to clear his path as he moves through the crowd towards the fight, so too do these aircraft require an escort to ensure their flight path is kept clear of enemy attacks from the ground.
"Our job is to make the environment more permissive for other aircraft to enforce the no-fly-zone," said "Zot", 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander, Misawa Air Base, Japan.
Zot and his unit are here on a three-month deployment as part of ONW. Their aircraft, the F-16CJ, performs the Wild Weasel mission and provides suppression of enemy air defenses for coalition aircraft.
"We perform our mission here by suppressing ground threats or enemy integrated air defense systems. What we do is basically provide a safe passage for other aircraft to do their jobs; we keep the path clear," said Zot.
The F-16CJ aircraft uses the high speed anti-radiation missile, or HARM, to perform its task. The HARM can detect enemy radar emissions. When fired, the missile will hone in on an enemy radar target and destroy it. Sometimes, the mere threat of the HARM missile will force enemy radar operators to shut down their systems. Either way, without radar, enemy air defenses become all but useless, providing a safer area for other jets to operate.
This is the unit's first time at ONW, and they have trained extensively for the mission. Earlier this year, the unit deployed to Red Flag, a multi-national training exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
"Training at Red Flag prepares us for the worst," said "Bull," an F-16 pilot in the 14th EFS. "The adversaries we fight at Red Flag are our own people - the best trained people in the world. The situations we get into are very intense, focused, highly concentrated threats. What we see there is a little more than what we may see anywhere else. When you come to this kind of environment, having had that experience, you feel very prepared. And it is exciting to finally get the opportunity to do what we trained for."
This is Bull's first real mission outside of training, and he is aware of the dangers of flying a combat mission.
"There is a realization when you fly that you are no longer training, that the people on the ground are actually trying to shoot at you and that if they miss it is not because they were trying to miss," said Bull. "These things are always in the back of your mind, but you try to just go out and do the mission."