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"T-Bolts" first F-16s to use CBU-103 and GBU-31

February 20, 2002 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Nicknamed the "T-Bolts," members of the 389th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron scored several F-16 firsts during Operation Enduring Freedom combat missions from this deployed location.
The T-Bolts were the first F-16 unit to use CBU-103 and GBU-31 bombs in combat.

"While our basic suppression-of-enemy-air-defense mission hasn?t changed, we have added some weapons to our quiver," said Lt. Col. Tom Lawhead, squadron commander. "We were brought to Operation Enduring Freedom specifically for our ability to drop inertially aided munitions."

Instead of using lasers or television cameras, inertially aided munitions use navigation systems to steer the bomb to the target. The GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition or JDAM uses a special tail kit that reads Global Positioning Satellite coordinates to steer a 1,000 or 2,000-pound bomb to the target through any kind of weather with an accuracy of 13 meters or less.

"Adding inertially aided munitions gives us a better probability of hitting enemy air-defense targets," said Lawhead. "This new category of weapons also opens up the use of the F-16 for interdiction missions and close-air support missions such as in this conflict."

Col. Bill Andrews, commander of the 366th Air Expeditionary Group, and Capt. Paul Kirmis, a pilot with the 389th, had their names written into the history books when their F-16s dropped JDAMs in Afghanistan Nov. 29.

Captains Mark Piper and Mark Wisher of the 389th also recorded F-16 firsts when they dropped CBU-103 Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispensers Nov. 13.

"Being in the first formation of F-16s delivering the CBU-103 weapons in combat didn?t enter my mind until after the event," said Wisher. "However, walking out the door watching the CBU-103 function and then returning safely to base -- it left me with a great feeling of accomplishment and pride."

Training for the use of CBU-103s and GBU-31s started in 2001 at training ranges for Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and included "train-as-we-fight" scenarios with different threat aircraft and simulated surface-to-air missiles.

"I am incredibly proud of the hard work that my maintainers, weapons specialists and pilots put in to get us to the point where we could drop the new munitions," said Lawhead. "We?ve been working on the upgrade since last summer and I was very pleased to see all the work come to fruition during such meaningful sorties."

Since the F-16 added inertially aided munitions to its inventory, the platform becomes an even more lethal and adaptable weapon for the United States and its allies.

"The combination of the F-16 and the WCMD and JDAM weapons now allow Air Force fighters to better support the combined forces air component commander," said Andrews. "During Desert Storm, we had to dive close to our targets to ensure a hit, exposing our pilots to increased threats. Now, we can be extremely accurate from high altitude."

Because of the all-weather capabilities of the munitions, pilots say they can drop the new bombs through clouds, fog and snow.

"They are almost as precise as laser-guided weapons, but we don?t need to have the target in sight," Lawhead said.

"We can drop through the weather. We also have the capability to drop the weapons visually based upon a geographic location or (a) target identification from ground forward air controllers."

The F-16 pilots credit not only their training, but also the training of others in the air and the people on the ground who helped make the mission a success.

"This war has largely been fought on the shoulders of good tanker support, close-air support for those on the ground, real-time reconnaissance and time-sensitive targeting," said Wisher. "Everybody worked together to put bombs on target."

"The combination of high-altitude accuracy and close coordination with ground troops delivered success every time the Taliban decided to stand and fight," said Andrews. "I am proud to fly with the T-Bolts and be a part of the OEF team."