The 198th FS converted from the A-7D/K to the F-16 in the Air Defense Fighter (ADF) variant in 1992. At that time most ANG units were equipped with this version of the somewhat older A/B models of the viper. Even though the 198th was flying the ADF variant of the F-16, they were trained in the bombing role as well. The ADF version featured the addition of a CWI module on the APG-66 radar, a search light on the port side of the nose, more adapted communication equipment, an Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) system and the possibility to fire AIM-7 or the later AIM-120 missiles. This meant a serious leap in performance and capability of this squadron in their defensive role. In the attack role the airframes kept their basic block 15 features.
The era of the F-16 with the 198th FS didn’t last that long. In 1998 the Staff decided that the squadron would be better suited as an airlift squadron and the unit converted to the C-130E. The 198th sent most of their F-16 airframes to AMARC, where most of them still reside today (2012). All together the F-16 days of the squadron only reached 6 years before transition took place.
The 186th FS converted from the F-106A/B to the F-16A/B in mid 1987. The conversion happened earlier then was scheduled and the 186th FIS was to be the last squadron to lose its F-106s. The first airframes were older block 5 and 10 models with some block 15 airframes also being delivered to the squadron. Main task for the unit was air defense, as with many ANG units who were equipped with the F-16. In 1991 the F-16s were brought up to the Air Defense Fighter (ADF) variant. The ADF version featured the addition of a CWI module on the APG-66 radar, a search light on the port side of the nose, more adapted communication equipment, an Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) system and the possibility to fire AIM-7 or the later AIM-120 missiles. This meant a serious leap in performance and capability of this squadron in their defensive role. In the attack role the airframes kept their basic block 15 features.
USAF F-16A ADF #81-0751
of the 186th FIS parked with opened canopy waiting for its driver to arrive. This F-16 went to Jordan
in 2004. [Photo by Mike Kopack]
This situation was maintained up until 2001 when the squadron started receiving more modern block 30 airframes with a large intake. Interesting about this is the following story: from crazyal611 (aka Mark): "Back in the early or middle 90's, the Montana ANG was going to convert to a general purpose mission and get block 30's. Members went to school and other units for training and even went to Springfield, accepted a number of that unit's aircraft and brought them to Great Falls. Then the air force stepped in and said that the whole idea was only in the planning stages and wasn't even approved yet, so the aircraft went back to Springfield and Montana stayed with the block 15 ADFs for another couple of years." The 186th FS started the new millennium with some good news as it was finally decided to bring newer F-16s to Great Falls and thereby retire their venerable block 15ADF models. Just before Christmas in 2000 the first two ‘Big Inlet’ block 30 aircraft arrived having been relocated from the 523rd FS at Cannon AFB. The first aircraft to arrive were #86-0328 and #87-0226. At the same time the Montana ANG had technicians and maintenance people at Kunsan AB inspecting and accepting some of the block 30 F-16s otherwise assigned to the 8th FW based there. When the 347th FW at Moody AFB was closed as an F-16 fighter wing some of the former ‘MY’ block 40’s found their way to Kunsan´s 35th FS freeing up many block 30’s. At that time the other Kunsan F-16 unit - the 80th FS - continued to fly block 30’s alongside the block 40’s in the 35th FS and former 8th FW block 30’s found their way into state side units in the ANG and AFRC. Ultimately 10 block 30’s were transferred from Kunsan to Great Falls during early 2001 and combined with other aircraft transferred from the Cannon AFB-based 27th FW and one single F-16 from the Alabama ANG. The Montana ANG could by mid-2001 present a newly converted Fighter Wing with 17 F-16C/D block 30 aircraft.
With these new planes came also new missions. Having been primarily an air defense unit the squadron started to fly general purpose missions with their block 15ADF vipers during 1999. That even resulted in a single ‘Snowbird’ deployment to Davis-Monthan AFB for air-to-ground weapons training in late 1999 to get a first hand feeling of the mission ahead. The block 30 family of F-16s are truly multi role aircraft and in early 2002 the unit found themselves training with the newly acquired Litening targeting pods. The Litening system was originally developed by Rafael in Israel, but chosen by the ANG and AFRC as their future targeting pod system in 1998 equipping A-10s as well as F-16s from block 25’s to block 30/32’s. The AN/AAQ-28 Litening pods were fully tested by the Montana ANG in the spring of 2002 when the unit deployed five F-16s to CFB Cold Lake for that year´s Maple Flag large scale air exercise. In general the Litening targeting pods were in rather short supply throughout the F-16 community in the ANG and for a period in 2004/2005 the squadron also flew with the older and less sophisticated AN/AAQ-14 targeting pods originally developed for the two-podded LANTIRN system. In 2006, however, the newest target pod - the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper - found its way to Great Falls and other ANG units followed suit. This pod conversion was, however, short lived as it was decided that Snipers would go to active A/OA-10, F-15E and F-16 block 40/50 units and by early 2007 the squadron once more found themselves with Litening pods on their vipers.
As a result of the 2005 BRAC decisions the unit converted to the F-15C/D during 2008 and revert to an all-air defense unit. In early December of 2007 the first F-16 left Great Falls as aircraft #87-0223 went to Hill AFB and the Ogden Air Logistics Center for the Falcon STAR structural upgrade as well as the final stages of the CUPID program.
A three-ship formation of Air National Guard F-16s fly over Kunsan City. The F-16s are #86-0309
from the 186th FS, #87-0237
from the 120th FS and #87-0243
from the 188th FS. [USAF photo by TSgt. Jeffrey Allen]