Fifteen pilots from the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and Portugal sharpened their F-16 knowledge at the Fighter Weapons Instructor Training at Leeuwarden AB in the Netherlands during the summer of 2010. FWIT, as the course is called, turns experienced F-16 pilots, usually captains qualified as four-ship flight leads, into weapons officers.
“Weapons officers function as squadron experts on tactics and weapon systems,” explained Maj. Pascal Smaal, Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot who served as supervisor for the latest course. “They are responsible for maintaining tactical standards within the squadron. Weapons officers instruct other pilots and upgrade syllabi for training flight leads and for mission qualifications. They advise leadership on tactical subjects related to specific operational areas, for example tactics related to operating in Afghanistan.”
FWIT usually takes place twice over a three-year span. The latest course, called FWIT ’10, is the fifteenth course since the training began in 1984. The extensive six-month course consists of three flying phases: air-to-air, air-to-ground, and mission employment. The flying phases are preceded by three weeks of ground instruction.
The air-to-air phase, which always takes place at Leeuwarden, begins with basic fighter maneuvers, followed by air combat maneuvering, then by tactical intercepts, and finally by air combat training. The air-to-surface phase begins with two weeks of academics at Leeuwarden and then moves to another location for flying (at Monte Real AB in Portugal this year). The flying portion of the air-to-surface phase begins with basic range missions followed by basic surface attack and then by opposed surface attack. Two weeks of close air support training finishes the phase. The students fly approximately twenty sorties during each of the three phases.
The final mission employment phase, which also took place at Monte Real this year, combines all the techniques and tactics taught during the previous phases. The phase included flying with live ordnance and coordinating with other air and ground assets in complex real-world missions. Besides passing exams for academics and passing all the rides in the syllabus, students wrote articles on specific tactical subjects for publication in a class technical journal.
FWIT plays a critical role in keeping participating air forces current on the latest software upgrades and capabilities of the F-16. The most recent software upgrade, called M5, was highlighted during the air-to-surface phase. M5 increases the Link 16 datalink capabilities of the jet, incorporates a new enhanced GPS-aided inertial navigation system, improves the radar performance, and gives the pilot the ability to employ modern, combined GPS/laser-guided weapons, such as the GBU-49 enhanced 500-pound Paveway II bomb.
The overall FWIT course design is based on US Air Force weapons officer training conducted at the Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada. “One major difference between our course and their course is that our instructor team consists of weapons officers from operational squadrons of each participating nation,” said Smaal. “For FWIT, every student brings his or her own experienced weapons officer. So both the graduating students and the instructors return to their squadrons with the latest information on weapons and tactics. In the US system, instructors all work full-time at the Weapons School.”
Another difference: FWIT students and instructors show up with their own aircraft and maintainers. The additional aircraft with their diverse markings always draws crowds of aviation enthusiasts to the fence line at Leeuwarden.
A variety of aircraft and air forces support this training. For the 2010 class, the Netherlands provided Red Air assets from Leeuwarden and Volkel ABs and C-130 and Fokker 50 cargo aircraft and KC-10 tankers from Eindhoven AB. US Air Forces in Europe supported with F-15s and KC-135 tankers from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall air bases (respectively) in England. The Portuguese Air Force contributed additional F-16s as well as transport aircraft. Germany took part with both Eurofighters and F-4 Phantoms. The RAF flew Eurofighters and the DA-20 jammer aircraft in some of the training missions. Norway also sent jammer aircraft.
“The quality of the European participating air forces, which includes the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and Portugal, depends on these weapon instructors,” said Lt. Col. Johan van Deventer, the commander for 323 Squadron at Leeuwarden. “The five nations invest a lot in these FWIT students and expect a lot in return for this training. Their investment produces a knowledgeable and capable weapon instructor who will improve the quality of all pilots in all of their squadrons.”