Mountain Home – Driving south from Boise, this feels like Wild West territory, more often associated with slates further south. The tumbleweed gets snagged on rusting farm machinery those days rather than rolling into saloons. Famous lawman Wyatt Earp spent time in Idaho searching for gold. He was a sheriff in the town of Eagle and found himself in at least one major gunfight.
Gunfighters can still be found in Idaho today, more specifically at Mountain Home AFB, about an hour’s drive south of Boise. The 366th Fighter Wing ‘Gunfighters’ is one of three F-15E Strike Eagle wings, now that the US Air Force has consolidated its assets.
The 389th Fighter Squadron ‘Thunderbolts’ and the 391 st FS ‘Bold Tigers’ both fly the F-15E Strike Eagle here alongside the 428th FS ‘Buccaneers’ that flies the Republic of Singapore AF’s F-15SG Strike Eagles under the Peace Garvin V agreement — a 20-vear co-operative agreement between the RSAF and the USAF.
The wing is currently commanded by Col Ron Buckley, a graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB and an experienced pilot with over 2,800 flight hours under his belt. It is a wing that has been in a period of flux of late. In 2010, the 390th FS ‘Wild Boars’ lost its F-15C mission after 18 years here. The squadron’s last two Eagles departed the Idaho base on 23 September that year as die unit was re-badged as the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron, and assumed control of the USAF expeditionary electronic attack mission at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington, with the EA-6B Prowler and the EA-18G Growler. The squadron remains a tenant unit of the 366th FW and is well aware of its heritage at Mountain Home: its roots stem from the 388th ECS that flew the EF-111A Raven in the same role here from 1982 to 1992, before it assumed the F-15C mission.
The operational tempo of the two USAF F-15E squadrons at Mountain Home is quite extraordinary.
Fighter assets are in high demand in the modern USAF as force levels decline, but operational commitments show no sign of letting up.
‘It’s just continuous.’ Col Smith said. ‘When I got here last summer the 389th FS was down-range. They returned in September, when the ‘Bold Tigers’ were deployed; they came back just before Thanksgiving from a deployment to the Horn of Africa. The 726th Air Control Squadron is also a tenant unit here. It was great to have everyone back here for the holidays but they are back 011 the road already. The ‘T-Bolts’ are participating in ‘Red Flag’ and the ‘Bold Tigers’ are getting ready to go down-range again for six months.’
In addition to deployments, the fighter squadrons regularly participate in exercises such as ‘Combat Hammer’, ‘Green Flag’ and ‘Red Flag’. The recent ‘Jaded Thunder’ exercise saw Army JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) using local ranges.
‘The Singaporean squadron is equally busy,’ Col Smith commented. ‘I recently went with them to Luke AFB for Exercise ‘Forging Sabre’ where they dropped their first Laser JDAM. They also went to ‘Red Flag Alaska’, where they flew offensive counter-air and performed very well!’
389th FS pilot Capt Brett Black explained just how they are able to train for all their roles from Mountain Home, ‘Pretty much all of the Strike Eagle mission sets we can do here on our ranges. We have two ranges where we can drop bombs plus we have the Paradise and Jarbridge MOAs (Military Operating Areas) to fight in’.
Black also explained thai the squadrons regularly fly LFEs (Large Force Exercises) or work with helicopters, JTACs or the A-10s from Boise. Squadron training appears to mirror what the units have coming on the horizon. ‘Our training officers decide if we need to do BFM (basic fighter manoeuvres) or SAT (surface attack tactics) missions, for example. We have weapons officers who are the experts; they can brief on the latest JDAM developments or tactics we may use.’