After the end of the Cold War, US defense spending in the 1990s underwent significant cuts. This affected not only the scale of arms purchases and new developments, but also led to the elimination of a number of military bases in the mainland and outside the United States. The functions of those bases that were preserved, as a rule, were expanded. A prime example of this approach is the Naval Air Station Cecil Field, located 19 kilometers west of Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
Cesil Field, founded in 1941 as a subsidiary of Jacksonville AFB, is named after Commander Henry Barton Cecil, who died in the 1933 USS Akron airship crash. During the war, the airfield "Cesil Field" was a training place for pilots of carrier-based aircraft. In 1952, the base was chosen as the permanent base for aircraft of the aircraft carrier wings of the US Navy's 2nd Fleet. At the same time, the territory of the base increased to 79.6 km². The airfield has four asphalt runways 2449-3811 m long. In the period from the early 50s to the late 90s, carrier-based aircraft were located here: F3H Demon, T-28 Trojan, S-2 Tracker, A3D Skywarrior, F8U Crusader, F-4 Phantom II, A-4 Skyhawk, A-7 Corsair II, S-3 Viking, ES-3A Shadow, C-12 Huron, F / A-18 Hornet.
Airbase "Cesil Field" played a significant role during the "Cuban missile crisis". It was here that the tactical reconnaissance officers RF-8A of the 62nd and 63rd reconnaissance squadrons of the Navy, who discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba, were based. For the repair and maintenance of carrier-based aircraft, large-sized capital hangars have been built at Cesil Field. The reduction in military spending affected the status of the airbase. At the moment, this is a reserve airfield for naval aviation, aircraft of carrier-based air wings are no longer located here on a permanent basis, but only make intermediate landings, undergo repairs and modernization.
Near the hangars leased by Boeing and Northrop Grumman, you can see not only naval F / A-18s, but also F-16s belonging to the Air Force and the National Guard. At Cesil Field, the exhausted F-16 fighters are being converted into QF-16 radio-controlled targets. Outwardly, these machines differ from combat fighters by their wingtips and a red-colored keel.
In the 70s and 80s, the Cesil Field airbase was a place where new modifications of AWACS and EW aircraft were tested. As mentioned in the previous part of the review, the Coast Guard, Customs, and the US Navy launched a joint program in the mid-1980s to curb illegal drug trafficking. To control the airspace in the border zone, the ships of the Coast Guard and the Navy, stationary radar posts, over-the-horizon radars, radars and optoelectronic systems mounted on tethered balloons were used. An important link in the anti-drug operation was the E-2C Hawkeye carrier-based AWACS aircraft. AWACS aircraft are used to detect, escort and coordinate actions when intercepting aircraft carrying illegal drugs.
For patrols over the Gulf of Mexico, as a rule, aircraft of the reserve coastal squadrons of the Navy were involved. In a number of cases, the crews of the reserve squadrons demonstrated very high results. Thus, the crews of the 77th early warning squadron "Night Wolves" from the beginning of October 2003 to April 2004 recorded more than 120 cases of violations of US airspace. Patrolling in the interests of the Coast Guard and Customs, together with F / A-18 fighters, continues to this day. But since this is not a priority task of the naval aviation, the admirals, guided by their own interests, did not always single out the Hokai to prevent illegal entry into the country. In addition, in 2006, in order to reduce costs, it was decided to reduce a significant part of the reserve squadrons of the Navy. Basically, the coastal squadrons served as E-2Cs of the early series, replaced on aircraft carriers by vehicles with more advanced avionics. However, the Americans were in no hurry to part with the not new, but still quite efficient aircraft. The solution to the problem was the transfer of AWACS aircraft of the liquidated reserve squadrons to the US Coast Guard. In total, five AWACS squadrons were formed as part of the Coast Guard, in addition to combating drug trafficking, they are considered as a capable operational reserve of the Navy.
However, in the 70-80s, the transfer of AWACS aircraft from the naval carrier-based aviation was out of the question. In addition, the rather small Hawkeye with its limited internal volumes did not fully satisfy the Coast Guard's needs in terms of the duration of patrols and the convenience of crew accommodation. The border guards needed an aircraft with good living conditions, capable of not only conducting long patrols, but also having on board dumped rescue boats and markers to help those in distress at sea.
Initially, it was planned to create such a machine on the basis of the military transport "Hercules", crossing it with the radar of the deck "Hawkeye". In the first half of the 80s, Lockheed created a single copy of the EC-130 ARE (Airborne Radar Extension) aircraft, installing AN / APS-125 radar and communication equipment and displaying radar information of sea E on board the C-130 -2C. The free volumes on board the Hercules were used to accommodate the dropped rescue equipment and additional fuel tanks, as a result of which the duration of stay in the air exceeded 11 hours.
After the transfer of the "radar" C-130 to the US Border and Customs Service, working in conjunction with the Coast Guard and the Drug Enforcement Administration, the aircraft received the designation EC-130V. His "front-line tests" in Florida took place at the Cesil Field airfield.
Although the aircraft, painted in the colors of the Coast Guard, performed very well on missions to identify drug smuggling, no further orders for this aircraft followed. The military department did not want to share the very demanded military transport S-130, operating them until they were completely worn out. At the same time, budgetary constraints prevented the US Customs and Coast Guard from ordering new Hercules. Therefore, an inexpensive alternative to the EC-130V coastal AWACS aircraft became the converted Orions, which are abundantly available at the Davis-Montan storage base, although these machines were inferior to the roomy Hercules.
In the early 80s, the fleet hastened to withdraw the basic patrol P-3A and P-3B into reserve, replacing them with the P-3C with more advanced anti-submarine equipment. The first version of the Orion-based AWACS was the P-3A (CS) with an AN / APG-63 pulse-Doppler radar taken from the F-15A fighter. The radars, like the aircraft, were also second-hand. During the modernization and overhaul of fighters, the old radars were replaced with new, more advanced AN / APG-70s. Thus, the P-3CS radar patrol aircraft was an exclusively budget ersatz version, assembled from what was available. The AN / APG-63 radar station installed in the bow of the Orion could see low-altitude air targets at a distance of more than 100 km. But at the same time, the radar was able to detect targets in a limited sector, and the aircraft had to fly on a patrol route in "eights" or in a circle. For this reason, US Customs has ordered four P-3B AEWs with all-round radar.
This AWACS aircraft was created by Lockheed on the basis of the R-3V Orion anti-submarine aircraft. The P-3 AEW has an AN / APS-138 all-round radar with an antenna in a rotating dish-shaped fairing from an E-2C aircraft. This station could detect smugglers against the background of the Cessna sea at a distance of more than 250 km.
Several more Orions are equipped with AN / APG-66 radars from decommissioned F-16A Fighting Falcon Block 15 fighters and an AN / AVX-1 optoelectronic system, which provides visual target detection in poor visibility conditions and at night. In addition, the AWACS aircraft, created on the basis of "Orion", received radio communication equipment operating at the frequencies of the US Customs Service and the US Coast Guard. At present, the patrol aircraft of the Border Guard Service have adopted a light color with a blue wedge-shaped stripe in the upper part of the fuselage.
Jacksonville, the most populous city in the US state of Florida, is literally surrounded by military bases on all sides. In addition to naval aviation airfields, the Mayport Naval Base and the Blount Marine Base are located a few kilometers east of the business district of the city.
A feature of the Mayport naval base is the presence of the McDonald Field airfield with an asphalt runway 2439 m long in the immediate vicinity of the combat ships' parking lot. In this regard, the Mayport base was in the past the place of permanent deployment of aircraft carriers: USS Shangri-La (CV-38), US Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42), USS Forrestal (CV-59) and USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67).
After the withdrawal of the aircraft carrier "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" from the fleet in August 2007, the largest ships assigned to this base are the landing ships "Iwo Jima" (LHD-7) with a displacement of 40,500 tons, "Fort McHenry" (LSD-43) with a displacement of 11,500 tons and the New York universal transport (LPD-21) with a displacement of 24,900 tons. While landing ships and transport at the piers, helicopters and VTOL aircraft AV - 8B Harrier II based on them are located at the airfield.
To practice combat use, carrier-based aircraft from the nearby Jacksonville airbase use a section of the sea water area approximately 120 km northeast of the McDonald Field airfield. In this area, launches of AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and bombing at anchored or drifting target ships are carried out.
The Marine Corps Base "Blount" is located on the eastern part of the island of the same name, located near the confluence of the St. John's River into the Atlantic Ocean. The size of Blount Island is 8.1 km², more than half of its territory is at the disposal of the military.
The island is the largest storage and loading site for Marine Corps equipment and weapons on the east coast of the United States. It is from here that loading is carried out on sea transports and landing ships for transfer to Europe, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
With the exception of the Korean War, the main losses of US combat aviation in past conflicts were inflicted not by fighters, but by ground air defense forces. In the early 60s, anti-aircraft missile systems appeared in the air defense of the USSR and allied countries, which had a significant impact on the course of hostilities in Indochina and the Middle East. After that, a course on countering Soviet-made air defense systems was introduced into the training program for pilots of American combat aircraft. At numerous training grounds throughout the United States, layouts of Soviet air defense systems were built, on which they worked out the suppression technique. At the same time, American intelligence services made significant efforts to obtain full-scale samples of Soviet anti-aircraft systems and radar stations. After the liquidation of the "Warsaw Pact" and the collapse of the USSR, the Americans had access to practically all the Soviet air defense technology they were interested in.
After testing full-scale samples at test sites, American experts came to the conclusion that Soviet-made anti-aircraft systems still pose a mortal danger. In this connection, there remains the need for regular training and education of pilots of the Air Force and Navy in the fight against air defense systems, air defense systems and anti-aircraft guns with radar guidance. For this, not only mock-ups and full-scale samples of air defense missile systems and radars were used, but also specially created multi-frequency simulators of anti-aircraft missile guidance stations, reproducing modes, searching for tracking and guiding missiles at an air target.
According to American data, the first equipment of this kind appeared at training grounds in Nevada and New Mexico, but Florida, with its numerous air bases and training grounds, was no exception. Since the mid-90s, the AHNTECH company has been creating equipment of this kind by order of the American military department.
The order for the creation of special radio technical stations operating at the frequencies and modes of Soviet radars and SNR was issued after the US military encountered difficulties in the operation of Soviet-made products. Those who served in the USSR Air Defense Forces and operated radar stations and first-generation anti-aircraft missile systems probably remember very well what work it took to keep the equipment in working order. The equipment, built on electric vacuum devices, required careful maintenance, warming up, tuning and adjustment. In addition, for each guidance station, target illumination radar or surveillance radar, there was a very impressive spare part, since vacuum tubes are a consumable item.
Having tested Soviet-made air defense equipment at test sites and took off the radiation characteristics in different operating modes, the American military tried to use it during regular exercises. This is where the problems began, in the United States there was not the necessary number of highly qualified specialists capable of maintaining complex equipment in working order. And the purchase and delivery of a wide range of spare parts abroad turned out to be too troublesome and burdensome. Of course, for the operation of Soviet electronics, it was possible to hire people with the necessary experience and qualifications abroad, as well as train their own. And, most likely, in a number of cases they did just that. But given the scale and how often the Air Force and carrier-based aircraft conducted training to overcome Soviet-style air defenses, this would be difficult to implement and could lead to the leakage of confidential information.
Therefore, at the first stage, the Americans "crossed" the Soviet electronic equipment used at the test sites with a modern radioelement base, replacing, where possible, lamps with solid-state electronics. At the same time, rather strange looking futuristic samples arose. The matter was facilitated by the fact that the modified guidance and illumination stations did not need to make real launches, but only to simulate target acquisition and guidance of anti-aircraft missiles. By removing some of the blocks and replacing the remaining lamps with semiconductors, the developers not only reduced weight, power consumption and operating costs, but also increased the reliability of the equipment.
In the United States, the market for the provision of services for the organization of military exercises and combat training of troops by private companies is highly developed. Activities of this kind turn out to be much less expensive for the military budget than if the military were engaged in it. Under a contract with the US Department of Defense, the private company AHNTECH creates and operates equipment that simulates the operation of Soviet and Russian air defense systems.
In the past, equipment was mainly created that reproduced the operation of the guidance stations of the first generation air defense missile systems: S-75, S-125 and S-200. In the last decade, operating simulators of radio frequency radiation from the S-300P and S-300V air defense systems have appeared at the test sites. A set of special-purpose equipment together with the antenna complex is mounted on towed trailers.
In turn, the Tobyhanna company specializes in the creation, operation and maintenance of radar equipment, repeating the characteristics of mobile military complexes: "Tunguska", "Osa", "Tor", "Kub", "Buk". According to information published in open sources, the stations have three transmitters operating at different frequencies, which are controlled remotely using modern computing means. In addition to the towed version, there are radio systems installed on mobile chassis of increased cross-country ability.
Various imitators and Soviet-made equipment are available at the Range Air Force Avon Park interagency training ground. The satellite imagery clearly shows: mobile short-range air defense system "Osa", OTRK "Elbus", air defense missile system "Kub", BTR-60/70 and ZSU-23-4 "Shilka".
Satellite image of Google Earth: Soviet-made equipment and SNR simulators at the Avon Park training ground
The landfill boundary begins 20 km southeast of the city of Avon Park. The area of the test site is 886 km², this space is closed for flights of civil aircraft.
The Oksiliari Field training ground and military airfield, founded in 1941, was used for training bombing and training of B-17 and B-25 bombers. Target fields, an airfield with mock-ups of combat aircraft, mock-ups of settlements and fortified positions, a piece of railroad track with wagons were built at the test site.
Arbuckles Lake adjoining the landfill now has fake piers and a model of a submarine on the surface. At the end of 1943, incendiary bombs were tested here, which were planned to be used against Japanese cities.
The intensity of combat training at the Avon Park training ground was very high. Until the end of World War II, more than 200,000 aerial bombs were dropped in the area and millions of bullets were shot. The maximum weight of combat aerial bombs did not exceed 908 kg, but they were mainly inert bombs filled with concrete, containing a small charge of black powder and a bag of blue. A clearly visible blue cloud formed in the place of the fall of such an aerial bomb. The collection of training and unexploded military ammunition is still ongoing at the test site. If the discovered training bombs are simply taken out for disposal, then the combat ones are destroyed on the spot.
In the first post-war years, the future of the airbase and the training ground was in question. In 1947, the Oxiliari Field airfield was mothballed, and the land occupied by the landfill was supposed to be sold. But the outbreak of the "cold war" made its own adjustments. In 1949, Avon Park was transferred to the strategic aviation command. At the test site, ring targets with a diameter of more than a kilometer are still preserved, on which training high-altitude bombing was carried out with mass-dimensional analogs of nuclear free-fall bombs.
In the 60s, the facility was handed over to the Air Force Tactical Command and fighter-bombers began to train here. In the 90s, documents were declassified, from which it follows that in the 50s and 60s, chemical and biological weapons were tested at the test site. In Florida, in particular, cultures of the fungus were bred, which was supposed to infect the cultivated areas in the USSR.
At the moment, the training ground is used for training pilots of the 23rd Air Force Wing flying on F-16C / D fighters and A-10C attack aircraft, as well as F / A-18 and AV-8B deck aircraft and AH-1W attack helicopters. Pilots not only make training launches of air-to-surface missiles, but also practice firing from onboard cannons. But for A-10C attack aircraft, firing from guns with armor-piercing uranium shells in this part of Florida is prohibited for environmental reasons.
The A-10C is mainly bombed with special practical 25-pound BDU-33 bombs. This aircraft training ammunition has ballistics similar to the 500-pound Mk82 aerial bomb.
When the BDU-33 bomb falls to the ground, the detonator initiates a small expelling charge, which ejects and ignites white phosphorus, giving a flash and a cloud of white smoke that is clearly visible at a great distance. There is also a "cold" modification of the training bomb, loaded with titanium tetrachloride, which, when evaporated, forms a thick smoke.
From the satellite imagery available, you can get an idea of the scope of the exercises and drills being conducted here. On the territory of the range there are many targets, various types of structures and shooting ranges.
In addition to sites with outdated armored vehicles, during combat exercises, models of settlements are used, with buildings erected from large-sized transport containers.
The decommissioned American Super Sabers, Skyhawks and Phantoms, as well as models of MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighters, are located on two target complexes that reproduce Soviet airfields. In 2005, two Mi-25 fire support helicopters captured in Iraq were shot at the training ground.
On the edge of the "enemy airfield" the position of the S-75 air defense missile system was built, which is a regular hexagonal star. This version of the stationary position was adopted in the 60s and 70s and is no longer used. There are also several training positions for the S-125 air defense system, military mobile complexes and artillery anti-aircraft batteries.
At the moment, aviation units are not based on a permanent basis at the Oxiliari Field airfield. As a rule, individual squadrons arrive here for a period of one to three weeks to participate in practical shooting and bombing. In the past decade, reconnaissance and strike drones have been involved in combat training.
During the exercises at the range, a large number of decommissioned aircraft, helicopters, vehicles, armored vehicles, 20 and 40-foot sea containers are annually turned into scrap metal. On the outskirts of the airfield there is a site where targets prepared for use and turned into scrap metal are stored.
In addition to combat aircraft and helicopters, artillerymen of the Marine Corps regularly train at the training ground, conducting firing from 105 and 155-mm howitzers. Over a year, more than a hundred different training activities are carried out here in the interests of the Air Force, Navy, ILC, Special Operations Command, Ground Forces, Police Department and FBI. As one American explosives expert put it, "If you need to blow something up, you won't find a better place in Florida than Avon Park."