As part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the ballooning "theater security package" aimed at bolstering NATO strength and deterring Russian aggression, 12 F-15C Eagles and about 200 airmen from the Florida Air National Guard will be deploying to the Netherlands and Bulgaria.
Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson, 3rd Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander stated the following when discussing the 125th's deployment:
"The TSP (Theater Security Package) is a strategic capability that allows the Air Force greater flexibility against evolving threats... The TSP is another way the Air Force presents forces at the right time to the right combatant commander. It reassures our allies and partner nations that our commitment to European security is a priority."
It isn't clear if this deployment is a result of increasingly belligerent tactics used by high-performance Russian military aircraft that have recently made headlines, or if this deployment was planned well in advance. Seeing as Russian bombers and fighters are making supersonic dashes near NATO member's airspace, the Eagle may be better suited for intercepting and shadowing these targets than F-16s.
When it comes to combat readiness, the Florida ANG's 125th Fighter Wing/159th Fighter Squadron has had the benefit of partaking in intensive large force employment training in Hawaii earlier this month as part of Exercise Sentry Aloha. The unit also spent time training with the F-15s of the 142nd FW/123rd FS out of Portland International before heading to Hawaii. As a result, they are heading overseas "spun up" and at an extremely high state of combat readiness.
The Florida Air National Guard's F-15Cs are some of the most advanced in the world, with many of them receiving the APG-63V3 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. The "V3" as it is called, is a quantum leap in capability over the mechanically scanned array APG-63 and is considered to be one of, if not thee most power and capable air-to-air radar in the world. Also, the 125th FW is the first F-15C unit to incorporate the Sniper targeting pod for air-to-air use, allowing crews to identify targets visually at extreme ranges. To my knowledge, they remain the only unit that is fully operational with the Sniper pod at this time, a capability that will enhance their utility when it comes to intercepting foreign aircraft under various conditions.
The air component of Atlantic Resolve has been very active since the operation started last year, with units from the USAF and from the USAFE deploying to Eastern European NATO countries to train with local forces and to act as a show of force aimed at Russia. In particular, American A-10s and F-16s have been very active on the continent.
The deployment of Florida ANG F-15s will be the first time a Guard unit has been involved with the operation although other F-15s have been a part of efforts to stymie potential Russian aggression since the invasion of Crimea began over a year ago. Some may wonder why a Air National Guard unit would be used instead of a front line one for such a deployment. The reality is that the Air National Guard has morphed into a front line force, especially its F-15 units, as the USAF's force structure has been slashed drastically over the last decade.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com