February 24, 2004 (by Lieven Dewitte) - AeroGroup, a civilian contractor located near Jacksonville, Florida, is supporting a deployment of Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s at Cecil Field.
Dutch F-16 MLU Block 20's on the ramp at NAS Cecil Field. The RNlAF F-16s took part in a four month deployment in early 2004 for FAC training. [AeroGroup
During the deployment, Dutch F-16 pilots will practice Forward Air Control tactics. Airspace constraints and typical weather patterns in Europe prohibit this kind of exercises in the Netherlands
Forward air control coupled with combat support is a tricky job. It requires good communication between ground-based military forces and jet fighters flying as much as 25,000 feet above them.
Verbal cues help the pilots find the targets and laser beams guide the bombs to the targets. Good teamwork both in the air and on the ground helps protect the pilots from incoming planes and the ground forces from incoming bombs.
It's not easy to train for this in Europe. First of all, it is too crowded. Residential and commercial development, coupled with tight air traffic routes make aerial exercises somewhat risky. The other reason is the weather. If northern and western Europe isn't covered with snow this time of year, near-constant low-level fog does a pretty good job of knocking out any air-to-ground target practice.
That's why teams from the Royal Dutch Army are using the Avon Park Air Force Range to work with pilots from the Royal Dutch Air Force, operating with the support of AeroGroup, a civilian contractor located at Cecil Field near Jacksonville, Florida.
The F-16 pilots need at least a 10,000-foot ceiling and once they get up that high over overcast skies or low-level fog, they can't target what they are trying to hit. Over crowded countries like the Netherlands, guesswork is not an option.
So when looking for a place to practice, stateside ranges such as those in Florida and Arizona look really good to the Royal Dutch Air Force and Royal Dutch Army. Besides an excellent location and great weather conditions, these well maintained ranges also provide a large variety of targets.
About six or seven teams from the Dutch military are scheduled to operate this year from the AeroGroup facilities which are in close proximity to the Avon Park Air Force Range, Each team is staying about two or three weeks doing training.