Time for another “noise complaint”
By Lt. Col. Scott Gierat, 310th Fighter Squadron commander
/ Published March 14, 2008
LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Approximately 20 years ago, the 310th Fighter Squadron Top Hats began waking up the West Valley when most people were getting ready for bed.
The low altitude navigation targeting infrared for night, or LANTIRN, was making its debut in the F-16 community. It was leading edge technology at the time, and it allowed F-16 pilots the capability to see at night, albeit limited. The system also gave the F-16 an ability to precisely guide weapons. In simplistic terms, we were able to kill one target with one bomb.
Well, we quickly learned during Desert Storm that low altitude employment was maybe not the way to go, so LANTIRN soon became MANTIRN, or medium altitude, and night vision goggles began rolling off the assembly line. These new devices allowed F-16 pilots to fly daytime tactics at night.
Most base personnel and the local community understand the main mission here at Luke is to train the world's greatest F-16 pilots. However, when you see the bright shiny faces of the newest graduates in the mighty Thunderbolt, well, they're not quite finished yet. They have one last stop, lasting about five weeks, in the 310th Fighter Squadron. This is when they stop waking up with an alarm clock in the morning and begin learning how to fly, fight and win once the sun goes down and the rest of the world gets ready for sleep.
There are six United States flying squadrons here on base. Every squadron contributes to the F-16 education of approximately 400 students annually. Currently, the 310th piece of the process is the night systems course. This course teaches students how to use NVGs and the targeting pod portion of the LANTIRN system. Both enable the US F-16 fighting force the ability to strike precisely 24/7.
NVGs have revolutionized aerial combat in the past 10 years. They allow pilots to fly visual formations at night, tactics to be more effective, and firepower to be massed in a shorter amount of time, all while increasing survivability. The biggest challenge is teaching these new capabilities while ensuring students understand their limitations and pitfalls. Though NVGs provide an amazing image, the goggles' binocular-like design limits the user's field of view. This is where Top Hat instructors make their money. We emphasize how to use the NVGs to maintain spatial orientation, or which way is up, while putting them through dynamic scenarios to help solidify their already learned combat skills.
The TGP is not a new concept by any stretch. Crude forms have been around since the Vietnam era. The current TGP has an infrared camera that allows pilots to see a target day or night, and a laser designator that guides the bomb to its impact point. Desert Storm highlighted the capabilities this system brought to the fight, and 310th FS instructors teach students how to prepare for when they need to find that pin-point target in downtown Baghdad.
By the time students finish with the Top Hats, they are able to employ every laser guided munition the F-16 can carry, while using NVGs to engage and defend themselves, and their flight mates, against both air and ground adversaries in all combat situations.
I know that doesn't help the sleep cycle when we momentarily wake you from a sound sleep, but rest assured the disturbance is minor compared to the benefits these young warriors reap during this training.