I have been waiting to see the California ANG’s iconic tail art on an F-15 and today was that day!
California’s 144th Fighter Wing has received the last of the Montana Air National Guard’s F-15Cs, an aircraft they had in service for just a matter of years. Montana shattered so many timelines while converting to the F-15C, and by everything I have heard they were really turning into a strong Eagle unit. I was able to spend some time with them down at Klamath Falls during Sentry Eagle, they seemed like a crack unit for being so young, and their personnel were incredibly polished. Their jets also looked great for the camera with their unique tail flash and creamy orange intake covers. Not to mention they had a couple very attractive crew chief chicks to boot!
Yet after the US tax payer spent tens of millions in improvements to the 120th FW’s home base at Great Falls, the squadron would be disbanded almost as fast as they stood up, their jets being transferred to the California ANG’s 144th FW, based in Fresno. The 144th flew some pretty old block 25 F-16s, and were heavily focused on their critical air defense role, a job that has slowly melted away from the F-16 community. Patrolling all of California is a BIG job, especially considering all the vulnerable and high value targets in a state which is one of the world’s largest economies onto itself. The F-16, especially the block 25, with its comparatively puny radar and modest range, was not an ideal mount for the 144th, so the F-15 is surely a step up. Additionally, putting F-15s on the California coast will fulfill the Air Guard push to put F-15s on America’s coastlines, loosely referred to as the “four corners” plan. Eventually the 144th F-15s may receive the APG-63V3 AESA radar set as well, which will turn their F-15s into the ideal aircraft to have protecting the skies from San Diego to Lake Shasta.
Spending so much money in such a short sighted manner leaves me with little sympathy for the Air Force budget-wise, as they have thrown so much money down the toilet for no good reason at all on constant realignments and closures. The USAF’s ordering of the standing up an F-15C unit that ends up shattering almost every goal put before it in the process, while also creating a new individual culture and morale amongst its troops, all at great cost, just to “realign” their self inflicted shrinking pool of tactical aircraft a few years later is a disgusting waste of funds. We saw the same thing happen here in Portland, where tens of millions of dollars were spent redistributing the combat search and rescue aircraft that lived at PDX for decades and installing a KC-135R squadron next the 142nd FW in their place. Then, just a few years later, the USAF redistributing the refueling wing’s assets to existing units, thus leaving their fully remodeled infrastructure behind. A pretty lame strategy for maintaining the world’s premier aerial fighting force I would say.
Look at all the BRAC nonsense, especially during the Bush years. Move this here, redistribute here, absorb this, disband that. The reality is the math is so convoluted that these savings measures “pitched” by those who want to put their special touch on the USAF’s footprint rarely ever pan out as advertised. Yes, I get it, priorities change, but considering this same “musical chairs” of asset distribution happens year in and year out, maybe there is a lack of quality planning and forecasting on the side of the USAF brass, in fact I think that is so apparent it’s almost comical. Sure, I understand this is a congressional, and even executive problem as well, but spreading the blame around does not makes this type of practice more sustainable in any way.
The sad reality is that things have shrunk so much as far as the USAF’s tactical fighter force structure goes that there are not that many units left to remodel and then abandon. What once was the threat of redistribution of aircraft has now become just premature retirement to save money to blow on weapon systems that “may” pan out down the line. This situation of dwindling airframes and units to molest is hardly a satisfactory remedy for this foolish practice, but it is a byproduct of the past decades’ disastrous fleet management and force structure planning none the less. There is another option than just throwing away all the blood, sweat, tears and money spent getting Montana’s F-15 unit up to snuff, it’s called funding another wing of F-15Cs. This nation has just a fraction of its air to air thoroughbreds it had just a decade ago, maybe an extra wing of F-15s is not such a bad idea. Lord knows, we have plenty of F-15s sitting in the desert that could accommodate such a small addition to our already skeletonized force structure. Is throwing away such an increasingly rare and valuable resource (an active F-15 fighter wing) really worth the “proposed savings” at this point? Hasn’t the DoD brass and Congress already blunted the Air Force’s spear enough over the last half decade or so?
Regardless of all the idiotic decision-making from up above, I have to offer a job well done 120th FW, sorry you guys got screwed out of your jets. I know your C-130s will be arriving shortly, a consolation prize perhaps, but she is still a proud aircraft to call your own. As for the 144th, my lens is waiting for you guys, I want to see that killer looking tail flash whizzing by in the pattern for myself! As for the integrity of the USAF’s tactical fighter inventory: “another one bights the dust…”
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I am laying pictures into the 10,000 word Netcentric Warfare 2.0 piece, and I have a tiny bit of research left to do and a couple paragraphs to write and that monster will be posted. I inserted about half of my drone piece in there too, so the follow-on drone piece will be much easier to write and the stage will be set for it properly. I have struggled with the outline to that drone piece for 6 months, now I think I am ready to start writing it. Anyways, sorry for the delay, you will see where I have been once you read the feature. It is a monster, but I think my readers will love it. I also want to do a news update on some various developments around the military aviation world today or tomorrow. Many of your emails wanting to know my opinion on this or that will probably be satisified in that post (Boeing and Lockheed teaming up for the Next Gen Bomber, Korea’s FX-3 debacle etc) so stay tuned!