Maintainers assigned to the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Misawa Air Base, Japan, prepare an F-16 Fighting Falcon for flight during Exercise Eager Lion at an air base in northern Jordan. (Staff Sgt. Brigitte Brantley / Air Force)
Air Force pilots flying F-16CM “Wild Weasels” — whose main mission focuses on destroying surface-to-air defenses — took part in air drills in Jordan, across the border from war-ravaged Syria.
Surface-to-air defenses in Syria have been a concern since the country has reportedly acquired advanced Russian-made S-300 missiles. The defenses were raised as a concern in spring 2013 when some members of Congress pushed the administration to help set up a no-fly zone over Syria.
However, Air Forces Central said that the fighters, from the 13th Fighter Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan, were tasked to the Exercise Eager Lion as “an available unit” and not for any specific capability.
The fourth annual Eager Lion “incorporated the aircraft in many diverse training roles, which helps to maintain interoperability, readiness and regional security,” Air Forces Central spokeswoman Capt. Sara Greco said.
The two-week exercise, slated to end June 8, included offensive counter air sorties, the suppression of enemy air defenses, defensive counter air, close air support, aerial delivery, air refueling and airborne command and control, Greco said.
Six thousand U.S. troops participated. Besides the 13th Fighter Squadron, the Air Force was represented by the 115th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard flying C-130s. . Aircraft from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Turkey also participated, for a total of 12,500 personnel.
This year’s was the biggest since the exercise began in 2011, with the goal to strengthen military relationships and increase regional stability in the face of the three-year civil war in Syria.
“We’re figuring out how each other operate so that if something real-world does happen, we’re able to effectively work as a team and get the mission done,” Capt. Alex Vane, an F-16 pilot with the 13th Fighter Squadron, said in a release.
Last year, the Air Force sent F-16s from the Colorado Air National Guard to Eager Lion, and the aircraft ended up staying in Jordan for several weeks after the exercise ended at the request of the Jordanian government. The F-16s would stay “until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed,” President Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders at the time.
There is currently no plan to keep the U.S. aircraft in Jordan after this year’s exercise.