April 13, 1999 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Shaw is preparing to deploy 24 F-16 CJs and more than 400 support people to the European theater to help in the suppression of enemy air defenses during NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia.
The Shaw aircraft are part of an additional force of 82 aircraft deploying to Europe at the request of the U.S. European Command commander-in-chief.
"We have 40 percent of the Air Force's SEAD assets," said Col. Dan Darnell, 20th Fighter Wing commander. "As the conflict in Kosovo went on, we as a group expected to be involved in some fashion."
In addition to Shaw's F-16's, four A-10s and six EA-6B Prowlers will come from the U.S. Atlantic Command. U.S. Pacific Command will send 39 KC-135 tankers, two KC-10 tankers and seven C-130 transports to the region to bring the total number of U.S. aircraft committed to about 500.
The larger aircraft package will give NATO
more deep-strike capability and help it increase the intensity of round-the-clock air strikes in Yugoslavia, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said.
"We are flying day and night," said Maj. Gen. Charles Wald, vice director for strategic plans and policy on the joint staff. "The intention is to intensify our operations over Kosovo and to take the fight to the (Yugoslav army and police) throughout Serbia and Kosovo."
The European theater poses differences in weather and terrain as opposed to Shaw's primary area of responsibility in Southwest Asia.
"There are transferable lessons learned, but every environment in every theater you go into is going to have its differences," said Darnell. "We are stepping in cautiously. Our pilots will use what they've learned and will do well."
The colonel is quick not to underestimate the Yugoslav air defenses.
"You can't rank any one country above another. Any country that has surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery poses a significant threat," he said.
The request for more aircraft doesn't mean something is wrong with the air campaign, Wald said. As the operation unfolds, some aircraft will be needed more than others and some can do a better job of attacking Yugoslav forces in the field, he explained.
This deployment comes at a time when Shaw already has people deployed to Turkey
for Operation Northern Watch.
"The deployments will have an impact on us, but we'll be able to carry on business as usual at home. We probably won't be able to carry on the same flying schedule, we just won't have the resources, but I don't foresee any serious degradation," Darnell said.
The colonel emphasized the importance of the welfare of family members left behind.
"I think of them (family members) as veterans also. They understand the commitment their spouses, fathers or mothers have to do the mission," he said. "There are strong family support programs on base as well as support channels within individual squadrons. Our people have dealt with this before."
"I know our people are trained and ready to go. They understand this is an open ended deployment and we'll stay until the mission is accomplished," the commander said.