News: Snipers celebrate 25 years of hitting the bull’s-eye in air-to-air warfare
YUMA, Ariz. - For 25 years, Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 has been serving as the enemy for Marine Corps pilots.
A component of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing of the Marine Corps Reserve, the Sniper squadron was activated on March 18, 1986, at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. In June of 1987, the squadron received its first aircraft, Israeli F-21A Kfirs, and during that year, logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time during 16 major exercises.
Within the first year of operation, VMFT-401 flew over 4,000 accident free sorties, or missions, in support of 59 different units. Accomplishments made during this period earned the squadron a meritorious unit commendation from the Secretary of the Navy.
VMFT-401 transitioned from the Israeli-built Kfir to the U.S.-built F-5E Tiger II in April 1989, and continued the aggressor role. The exit of the Kfir was the end of U.S. military usage of foreign aircraft for aggressor training. Once the F-5Es began to age beyond usage, the squadron transitioned to the F-5Ns in June 2004.
The Snipers continue to fly the F-5Ns, along with one, two-seat F-5F Franken-Tiger. The Franken-Tiger was built using parts from a Navy two-seat F-5F Tiger II aircraft and from single-seat, former Swiss Air Force, F-5E aircraft, and is the only aircraft of its type in the Marine Corps.
The current F-5Ns are expected to last until at least 2020, said Jeff Treffert, VMFT-401 maintenance manager.
Their aircraft are painted in Soviet-type camouflage patterns, because even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, many likely adversaries the U.S. may face use Soviet technology, equipment and tactics.
In 2010, the squadron was recognized by the Commandant of the Marine Corps for flying more than 50,000 mishap-free flight hours, not having a mishap since October 1995. At an average of 45 minutes per flight, 50,000 hours equates to nearly 70,000 mishap free sorties.
The Snipers of VMFT-401 are the Marine Corps' only “adversary” squadron, manned by highly experienced Marine fighter pilots, each averaging more than 2,500 flight hours in tactical fighter aircraft.
The name ‘Snipers’ was chosen because the sniper pilot was the highest grade of all Soviet Union pilots. Highly trained, extremely motivated and very capable, a sniper pilot represented the best our former cold-war adversaries had to offer in the sky. The design on VMFT-401’s squadron patch is an adaptation of the crest from the Sniper Pilot’s wings.
All Sniper pilots are air combat tactics instructors and most are graduates of Top Gun or the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course. The squadron currently has two U.S. Air Force F-15 pilots serving as exchange officers.
Snipers are experts on simulating threat aircraft and tactics and providing accurate and realistic training for all branches of the U.S. military and our allies.
“We spend most of our time simulating threat tactics in an air-to-air environment,” said Lt. Col. Tim Golden, VMFT-401 commanding officer. “We will ‘pretend to be the bad guys’ so to speak. We are experts at replicating threat countries tactics.”
Although current operations don’t pose an air-to-air threat, the squadron continues its role in training pilots to face the threat.
“Because of the continued commitments to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, front line units are focused on executing in that environment” said Golden. “There are no air-to-air threats in Afghanistan or Iraq. In essence we are ‘keeping the porch light on’ for air-to-air training in the Corps. This is certainly a perishable skill that remains one of the functions of Marine Corps tactical aircraft.”
Maintenance for the squadron's aircraft is provided by contract with Sikorsky Aerospace Maintenance, a group of men and women dedicated to incomparable service of the Corps’ only F-5s.
“The squadron enjoys the most experienced F-5 workforce in, probably the world,” said Treffert, who joined the squadron in 1987. “Our mechanic’s experience is unsurpassed.”
Many of the squadron’s Sikorsky employees are former military maintainers, and continue to take pride in the work they perform for the squadron, keeping older, high-hour-count aircraft up and running for some of the Corps’ top pilots.
“This job is extremely satisfying,” said Treffert, who retired from the Navy after serving for 22 years as a radar technician. “Our pilots train other pilots to fly, fight and win. Like anybody who makes a career out of the military, it isn’t about monetary gain here; it’s about being a patriot. To support these guys really makes you feel like you’re doing something good for your country.”
The squadron will continue to play a pivotal role in the Corps’ aviation community, honing other pilots’ skills in air-to-air warfare.
Date Posted:09.09.2011 19:08
Location:YUMA, AZ, US
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