The squadron started receiving their first F-16s in 1991. These were of the block 25 type, replacing the venerable F-4 in the air defense and attack roles. The transition process was quite fast since the first F-16s arrived in October of 1991 and the last F-4 flight was on January 21st, 1992. Most of these airframes came from other regular air force units which were trading in these blocks for more modern types. The squadron, although an ANG unit – which are mostly tasked with air defense of US mainland – was tasked with air defense and a conventional attack mission. This was already the case in the F-4 and even in the F-100 days. In the early days of F-16 operations the emphasis was more on air defense than on the attack role. With the absence of modern targeting pods the deployment of air-to-ground weapons was somewhat hampered since other units had to be called upon to perform the target designation.
In 1997 the name of the squadron was changed from Marksmen to Blacksnakes. This was purely a political initiated change. The word ‘Marksmen’ somehow reflected an aggressive undertone which some found offensive. Although this wasn’t the case at all, the squadron decided to change its name into ‘Blacksnakes’. The tailscheme of the aircraft was changed accordingly.
USAF F-16C block 25 #84-1244
from the 163rd FS is coming in for landing at Fort Wayne IAP in June of 2005 loaded with a LANTIRN
pod and a AGM-65
missile. [Photo by Jake Melampy
In 2005 the squadron introduced a reconnaissance asset with the Theatre Airborne Reconnaissance System (TARS) coming available to the unit. The 163rd FS was one of a few ANG units to fly with this recce pod.
After having flown for 17 years with the block 25 airframes, a number of those came to the end of their operational lifespan. It was therefore decided that the airframes of the 163rd FS were to be replaced with more modern examples. More modern is quite relative since the airframes they received were of the block 30 type. These big mouth models were mainly coming from the 107th FS which was transitioning to the A-10 at the time. The in service time of this type with the Blacksnakes was short-lived as in 2009 – the year the unit honored its predecessor unit – the 358th FG – with an heritage jet – it was decided that the squadron was to join their brothers of the 107th FS as an A-10 unit. The conversion happened in 2010.
A specially painted USAF F-16C block 25 #84-1264
from the 163rd FS pulls away from the boom following an aerial refueling with a Grissom KC-135R Stratotanker on November 13th, 2008. The F-16 is designated as a 'Heritage Bird'. [USAF photo by TSgt. Doug Hays]