Fighter Wing Skrydstrup
Words and photography Michael van der Mee and Nico van Remmerden
On January 14, under freezing conditions, Touchdown Aviation were guests with 730 Eskadrille (Squadron) of the Royal Danish Air Force at the sole remaining fighter base in Denmark; Skrydstrup. The base is situated close to the German border in the South of Denmark and is home to 727 and 730 Esk operating the F-16 Fighting Falcon and a detachment of 722 Esk with a EH101 Merlin helicopter for Search and Rescue operations.
As is the case with most Air Forces, the Royal Danish Air Force's (RDAF) fighter community is facing turbulent times in the year the Air Force is celebrating her sixtieth anniversary. With continuing budget cuts, the actual number of F-16s available to the two units is currently being cut from 48 to just 30 airframes.
Both units fly old block 10 as well as more modern block 15 airframes. Although both are capable of carrying air-to-ground ordnance, the block 10s are mainly flown in the air defense role as the smaller stabilizer results in a different center of gravity, making the restrictions on the airframes bigger then on the block 15 frames. For this reason, the Block 10 airframes will be withdrawn from service in the coming months.
With most of the block 15 airframes being upgraded to M4 standard, the pilots can fly with the new Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). The JHMCS is a lightweight, compact helmet mounted display optimized for both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It provides the pilot with information projected in his visor without being forced to look into the cockpit. In combination with the AIM-9X Sidewinder the pilot can now lock the missile on the target while looking at it, instead of pointing the nose of the F-16 to it and thus improves the survivability in close air combat. Together with the AIM-120 AMRAAM that has a range of up to 40+ miles it has given the air-to-air possibilities of the F-16 a significant boost.
For the air-to-ground operations the aircraft can be fitted with the LANTIRN targeting pod. LANTIRN is a system consisting of two pods which allow the F-16s to fly around the clock and in adverse weather conditions. It provides Terrain-Following Radar (TFR), Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FliR), targeting information for the aircraft's on-board fire control system and target laser illumination. Together with the GPS guided bombs the vulnerability of the pilot and aircraft is greatly reduced as the pilot doesn't have to confirm the target(s) visually in all cases anymore.
The Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) is also maintained at Skrydstrup with 2 pilots and 4 F-16s (2 are spare) on a 24 hour, 7 days a week, year round standby with a response time of 10 minutes. Currently the block 10 airframes are used for this mission as it obviously saves hours on the block 15 frames. The jets are fitted with 2 AIM-9L Sidewinder short range infrared missiles for this purpose.
For training purposes the QRA is flown daily where the actual times between the incoming alert call and take-off are measured to judge the aircrew on QRA standby. During training missions the QRA jets also fly as so called 'Red Air' adversaries in air-to-air combat training. For these missions the jets have two AIM-9 training rounds fitted. Because of the bigger radar cross-section these training missiles give, the jets make good Su-27 or MiG 29 stand-ins.
During 2009, Skrydstrup's Fighter Wing performed a joint five nation QRA task. The Wing took responsibility over the airspace of Iceland as part of the NATO coverage of the Icelandic airspace, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as part of the NATO air-policing mission in addition to Danish airspace itself. This involved 12 jets on QRA duties spread over 3 bases across Europe. In the future this would put a severe strain on the 30 jets remaining.
For training Skrydstrup will receive an updated flight simulator that is currently being upgraded in the United States, it is planned to arrive in the first half of 2010. With the possibility to train with up to four-ship missions in the new simulator, NATO agreed on the reduction of the 180 minimum required hours to actual 140 hours in the air.
The training of new pilots to enter the fighter community has been put on a hold for a period of 2 years as together with the drawdown in fighters the number of pilots would have to be reduced as well. Currently there are a small number of pilots that have finished the Fast Jet Training in Canada but have not been trained on the F-16. They fly a minimum of hours on the SAAB T-17 to keep their flying skills.
All in all the Danish fighter community is facing an exciting period with all the organizational chances. These changes will not comprise the operational readiness in these turbulent times. The professional skills and positive attitude of the wing will assure this would not be the case.
Touchdown Aviation would like to thank all members of Eskadrille 730 for their hospitality and a special thank you to "Brian", "Guy" and "Michael" for all their help and efforts to make this visit possible.