The Wild Weasel mission — suppression of enemy air defenses — has been little reported in recent times, but it remains an important capability. For the US Air Force, it is the domain of the F-16CM and a fiercely proud pool of specialist talent.
‘We are going to be the first into a fight and the last ones out, to ensure everyone completes their mission safely’, says Lt Col Mike ‘Bait’ Richard, commanding officer of the famous 480th Fighter Squadron (FS) ‘Warhawks’. Speaking to Combat Aircraft during a Flying Training Detachment (FTD) from home base at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, to RAF Lakenheath, UK, in July, Lt Col Richard is referencing his squadron’s highly appropriate motto: ‘First in, last out’.
While the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD — pronounced ‘seed’) mission hasn’t exactly captured the headlines in recent air campaigns, it continues to command a prominent status within the US Air Force. Indeed, it’s a mission that was called upon in Operation ‘Odyssey Dawn’ over Libya in 2011 and prior to that in ‘Iraqi Freedom’, ‘Allied Force’ and of course, ‘Desert Storm’ in 1991.
Lt Col Richard commands one of nine operational USAF squadrons that fly the Block 50/52 F-16CM/DM and specialize in the demanding SEAD role.
Born out of the war in Vietnam, these skilled aviators are affectionately known as Wild Weasels. The weasel is adept at rooting out and killing vermin. This mission is all about locating and identifying hostile ground-to-air threats — suppressing or killing surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) — before they can kill you.
These types of ground systems are as great a threat to combat aircraft as enemy air-to-air fighters — often greater. ‘In my opinion there’s three spectrums of SEAD’, says Lt Col Richard. ‘You can avoid the threat, you can disrupt the threat or you can destroy the threat. We train on a daily basis for all three.’
Read all about the 480th FS and the Wild Weasel mission in the new October issue of Combat Aircraft, out this Thursday.