AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Airmen from the 510th Fighter Squadron, the "Buzzards," deployed to Afghanistan May 23 in support of overseas contingency operations bringing with them new technological capabilities.
"This is the first combat deployment for the 510th Fighter Squadron since returning from Iraq in the summer of 2007," said Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Sarakatsannis, 510th FS commander. "It also marks the first combat deployment of Common Configuration Implementation Program modified F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 31st Fighter Wing."
The 31st FW F-16s recently completed the CCIP modification, which adds new aircraft capabilities, to include the Link-16 datalink, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles. Link-16 is a data exchange network that integrates multiple control and system platforms, while JHMCS enhances pilot situational awareness by projecting holographic data on the inside of the visor, allowing pilots to continually survey and distinguish between friendly and enemy air and ground targets. The AIM 9X is the newest variant of the Sidewinder missile.
"The squadron is highly trained and ready to provide airpower support to US and coalition ground forces in support of Operation Enduring Freedom," Sarakatsannis said.
Their mission will include both kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities in support of friendly forces.
Preparation for this deployment began in the fall, when the 510th FS focused on upgrade programs to ensure they could deploy with the right mix of wingmen, flight leads and instructor pilots. Additional training was also required to ensure pilot qualification on new aircraft avionics and the SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pod.
In January, the squadron deployed to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to participate in Combat Hammer, where they were evaluated on precision-guided munitions and 20mm strafe employment. Following Combat Hammer, the squadron spent four weeks at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where they participated in Air Combat Command's premier close air support training exercise, known as Green Flag West. During this exercise, they provided air support to a Canadian Army Task Force on rotation to the U.S. National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif. They trained with joint terminal air controllers from Canada and all branches of the U.S. armed services.
"Our participation in these two exercises provided us with exactly the right training we needed, and permitted us to complete 90 percent of our deployment training plan," Sarakatsannis said.
With this training, the colonel said the 510th FS is fully prepared for this deployment.
"Our Airmen are absolutely ready to go," he said. "Both our pilots and aircraft maintenance personnel have trained hard and long for this deployment. For most of our folks, this will be their first deployment, but they are very excited to be able to contribute to the U.S. and coalition efforts in the region."