LAAGE, Germany---Air Force F-16s and airmen deployed to this former East German air base Oct. 2 for two weeks of flying training against MiG-29 Fulcrums, one of NATO's Cold War enemy fighter aircraft.
While the German pilots at the controls of the Soviet-built MiGs may be NATO allies, they can play the part of the bad guys better than anyone around.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for us," said Lt. Col. Jon Huss, deployment project officer and assistant director of operations for the 555th "Triple Nickel" Fighter Squadron, deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy. "We're getting the opportunity to fly against one of the most capable aircraft out there, and one that we could very well meet in combat."
Huss, who was flying against MiGs for the first time in his career, described the MiG-29 as a "worthy opponent" for the F-16 and said the German pilots behind the controls were nothing less than tough and professional sparing partners. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of the German pilots at Laage AB, located about 30 minutes outside Rostock, earned their wings along side U.S. pilots at European Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
Aviano-based pilots have faced MiG-29s in combat before and may again. The last MiG-29 engagement was May 4, 1999, when an F-16CJ pilot shot down a Fulcrum over Serbia during Operation Allied Force. The pilot, from Shaw AFB, S.C., was deployed to Aviano as part of the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing.
The seriousness of this opportunity seems to be clear to the nearly 70 people who deployed here with six Aviano F-16s.
"We're getting to train with people in a part of the world where we were considered the enemy not much more than a decade ago," said Master Sgt. Andy Anderson, the deployment first sergeant. "Most of our maintainers have never seen a MiG before. They're getting to go out with their German counterparts, touch it, climb on it, and hopefully build a lasting bond along the way that will get us invited back for deployments like this."
The MiG-29, while it may look similar to an F-15 Eagle, is often compared to the F-16 in terms of performance and flight characteristics. Developed by the Moscow-based Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau, the twin-engine fighter jet was intended to be a robust, short-range war-machine, easy to handle and easy to maintain, said German Lt. Col. Peter Hauser, 73rd Fighter Wing vice commander.
Hauser said the MiG squadron, primarily made up of seasoned pilots, has two primary training missions. One is to train other NATO or allied pilots who fly the MiG-29. The other is to train pilots how to fly against and defeat the MiGs.
The squadron took the latter of the two missions on the road in October of last year to participate for the first time as "adversary" aircraft in the Red Flag aerial combat training exercise at Nellis AFB, Nev. They have also trained with other American units including U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons and Air National Guard squadrons from the United States.