Darrell Todd Maurina
Cannon Air Force Base is getting an entire squadron of new planes, the last three of which are scheduled to arrive Friday from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
The new F-16CJ planes, also known as F-16 Block 50 planes, will replace the F-16s that have been flown by the 522nd Fighter Squadron at Cannon. Cannon personnel from 522nd squadron are currently being retrained to use their new aircraft.
Lt. Col. Ken Rizer, director of operations of the 522nd Fighter Squadron, said the replacement planes represent a significant upgrade in the capabilities of his squadron — meaning the squadron is more likely to be deployed in combat.
“We are excited about having these jets because if there is a conflict there is a great opportunity and likelihood that we would be there,” Rizer said. “Whenever we as an Air Force go into harm’s way, most of the adversaries we meet have some sort of integrated air defense, what we call IADS. Any time we are engaged with a country that has IADS we will have Block 50 F-16s there.”
Rizer said the aircraft carry a special High Speed Anti-Radiation (HARM) missile used to lock on and destroy enemy radar. According to the official Air Combat Command News Service, F-16CJ squadrons from Shaw have been used in Iraq over the last decade to destroy or disable radar-guided, surface-to-air missile sites and anti-aircraft artillery guns that had been targeting American pilots patrolling two “no-fly-zones” since shortly after the end of Desert Storm.
Military security bars releasing the exact size of squadrons, but Master Sgt. Stefan Alford of the Cannon public affairs office confirmed squadrons are typically 18 to 24 jets. Alford said there would be a small change in the number of maintenance personnel needed to support the 522nd Fighter Squadron since the new planes have different capabilities.
While the F-16CJ is new to many of the squadrons pilots, Rizer and his squadron commander, Lt. Col. Mark Altobelli, are familiar with the aircraft and the HARM system.
“I went through this same conversion when I was at Misawa Air Base in Japan,” Rizer said. “We are very blessed to have (Altobelli) as the commander because he was at the ground floor of the operational testing of the HARM system pod in the 1990s. He’s got a great deal of experience with it, he has been the perfect guy to lead us through this conversion.”
Rizer said Cannon is a good place for his pilots to train with their new equipment.
“With the new aircraft training ranges are really important,” Rizer said. “The state of New Mexico and the local community are doing a really good job of trying to tailor our training areas to what we need for our new mission.”