January 26, 2017 (by Asif Shamim) - The roar of an F-16 Fighting Falcon is distinctive. For coalition troops in contact with the enemy, it is a welcome sound. For terrorists, it’s a frightening one.
USAF F-16C Block 50 #91-0379 belonging to the 79th EFS sits on the ramp at Bagram Airfield on January 6th, 2017. [USAF photo by SSgt. Katherine Spessa]
That sound shakes Bagram Airfield as an F-16 takes off, one of several that evening, the glowing afterburner climbing quickly into the sky.
The 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Airfield is the only dedicated fighter squadron in Afghanistan. With ever-present tanker support, the F-16 that just took off can get anywhere in the country in under an hour. It could be performing close air support, non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or armed overwatch for bases or operations in need.
“Even with the sound of a fighter airplane you can break contact with the enemy,” said Maj. Joseph, 79th EFS director of operations. “If ground forces are unable to defend themselves and they’re receiving fire and it’s a pretty hectic situation, [in an F-16] you can protect lives just by your presence.”
The multi-role F-16 employs more than just fearsome appearances. Its versatility allows its pilots to vary the types of munitions the aircraft carries to whatever is needed. It provides a variety of options to the ground commander they are supporting at the time.
With their mixed weapons load, a pilot can precision-guide his weapons to target anything, from a single person to an entire building.
“We’re a kinetic option, the ideal weapons delivery platform for someone that needs us to make bad things go away,” Joseph said. “One of the most rewarding things that a fighter pilot can do is know that they are able to support ground troops in need.”
’s train, advise, assist campaign progresses, many of those troops in need are Afghan National Army soldiers ensuring security in their own territories.
“We’ve observed the Afghans provide the same sort of support we do with their own platforms - they’ve got helicopters that can provide close air support,” said Joseph. “Knowing that they have the ability to provide similar effects that we can shows that they’re increasing their ability to be self-sustained and provide security for their nation.”
The 79th, based out of Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, has been in country for nearly three months. By this stage of their rotation the unit is a well-oiled machine, working closely with coalition Airmen embedded with those Afghan forces on the ground, the battlespace managers overseeing everything, and the refueling tankers with them in the sky. It is the perfect support team for the F-16 to deliver precise air power throughout the region – no matter the challenge.
“Even though there is only one person in the airplane, we always fly as a team,” said Joseph. “Now the one person that only has a finite number of radios inside the tiny airplane that is the F-16, has access to countless resources.”
While a pilot may take off with a specified objective, the fluid nature of combat may call for that plan to change at a moment’s notice. An overwatch mission in the south may turn into close air support in the north, more than 1,000 kilometers away, in a matter of minutes.
“At the core of it Airmen are problem solvers, we think in a different sphere than other groups, so when we are presented with a problem, we work as a team and we figure out a way to solve it.”
When the F-16 returns from another successful mission, its pilot’s job is not over. In order to be prepared for ever-changing circumstances, the pilot will review weapons system video from the mission and make calls to his support team to discuss lessons learned.
“We’re in a pretty serious business, so being able to execute it properly and being able to come back and review the tapes and see that everything went well and you did everything you were supposed to – that’s the biggest reward to me,” said Capt. David, a 79th EFS F-16 pilot.