|EASTERN EAGLE 2005 - Mission Accomplished|
During their 6 month deployment to Afghanistan as part of Operation Eastern Eagle 2005 four Belgian Defence Lockheed F-16AM fighter-bombers have flown some 450 operational sorties accumulating some 715 flying hours while providing the pilots with an continuing source of operational experience in an often hostile environment. Some 40 % of all Belgian F-16 combat pilots were able on a rotational basis to benefit from this inestimable experience in the field.
In transit over very inhospitable Afghan terrain.
Lockheed F-16AM FA-125 armed with two GBU-12 laser guided bombs of 250 kg, two AIM9M Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, a Lantirn pod and 510 rounds of M70 low drag bullets for the M61 A1 Vulcan 20mm gatling gun system.
Since 15 July 2005 the four Belgian aircraft involved formed part of the Kabul International Airport (KAIA) based Belgian-Dutch detachment of 8 fighters manned by some 165 personnel (58 of which Belgian). This detachment called "Eastern Eagle" is a reinforcement of the of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under control of NATO and was principally aimed at providing more security during the legislative elections of 18 September 2005.
It was already wintery dark when the Eastern Eagle Falcons arrived at Kleine Brogel airbase on Sunday 16 January 2006
Tired but happy to be back home after the long flight from Kabul.
During their stay in Afghanistan the aircraft were scrambled ten times in order to provide assistance to ISAF troops in the field. Fortunately they never had to use their armament. At any time two aircraft were always in alert status of 90 minutes (which means that they should be airborne within 90 minutes of an alert) In practice this reaction time revealed to be much shorter, but on occasions the alert status was bought to 35 minutes and even 15 minutes in the week preceding the installation of the new Afghan Parliament in December.
Lockheed F-16Am FA-128 in representative Eastern Eagle configuration.
The major part of the missions flown were Close Air Support (CAS) tasks in assistance of ISAF troops around Kabul and the Northern part of Afghanistan where NATO has established 9 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) to help the new Afghan government to impose its authority. One of the main instruments employed by the F-16's was the Lantirn laser designator pod which allowed the aircraft to accomplish their missions successfully while remaining at a safe height of 5.000 m, out of reach of most anti-aircraft missiles and small arms fire. This pod which is also equipped with an infrared camera can detect by day or night objects up to man-size in a sometimes cluttered urban environment. Very often target directions are given by a Forward Air Controller who from the ground can "talk" the pilot to the target.
Eastern Eagle armament detail - from left to right: AIM9M Sidewinder air-to-air missile, (an empty pylon), a GBU-12 laser guided bomb of 250 kg on a Per Udsen "Pylon Integrated Dispenser System (PIDS)", which fits chaff-flare dispensers to the rear of the stores pylon, (a 1400 litre fuel tank) and a AN/AAQ-14 Lantirn targeting pod.
On 16 January the four F-16AM's have returned to Kleine Brogel airbase from Kabul refuelled in the air by French Armée de l'Air tankers (see our special feature "The French Tanker Connection"). As Major General Gérard Van Caelenberge, Commander of the Air Component puts it: "mission successfully accomplished". The General does not exclude a new deployment but up to now no request for such mission was formulated by NATO. Whatever the future may bring, the Air Component has demonstrated accurately that it is trained and prepared to take on these types of international missions.
© Daniel Brackx - Baha News (January 2006)
The author would like to thank the DG IPR team as well as Maj. Gen. G. Van Caelenberge, Kol P. Wauters and, Maj. Geert Dedecker (DetComd) , G. Gaudin, D. Geerts and D. Voortmans.
Last updated 28/01/06 09:55 Daniel Brackx