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Wild Weasel Wednesday July 20, 2016

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.
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Instead of a Flightline Friday, I’m doing a Wild Weasel Wednesday this week.  May as well, I haven’t done a Flightline Friday in forever.

Wild Weasel is the nickname of the airborne defense suppression mission set.  It primarily involves the suppression or destruction of enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD).  The air defenses in question are ground- or sea-based, destruction of enemy aircraft is a different mission (air combat/air superiority).

As far as the United States and the West is concerned, the Wild Weasel mission evolved from the hard and embarrassing lessons of the early days of the Vietnam conflict.  US defense policy under Eisenhower (and it was absolutely the right policy) focused almost exclusively on strategic nuclear warfare, rather than the development of a broad range of tactical capabilities and, especially, the retention of a large standing army.  Ike did this for several reasons – it was much cheaper, it reduced the manpower drain on the nation, and, most especially, not having Wild-Weasel_Patcha very large army and tactical air force virtually guaranteed the US would not get sucked into another “brushfire conflict” like Korea.

Kennedy, of course, had different ideas, and ran and won in 1960 on the argument that Ike had allowed US defenses to seriously weaken (this was a false statement).  Kennedy wanted “flexible response,” that is, a very large strategic nuclear force but also a large army, navy, tactical air force, etc.  Ike’s prediction came true within a few  years, that a large standing army is an irresistible temptation to politicians.  If you have one, it will be used, and we were in Vietnam in force by 1964/5.  Unfortunately, the tactical buildup was still in its early stages.  A number of weaknesses were quickly revealed, especially with regard to tactical air forces (Air Force, Navy, or Marine).

The biggest of these was in spite of the capabilities of Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) being clearly revealed in the 1960 shootdown of Francis Gary Power’s U-2, no one had thought to provide any of the tactical aircraft in service with defenses against radar-guided missiles.  Not only did they have no defenses, they didn’t even have the ability to tell when they were being painted by radar and under threat of attack.  Within a few months of the start of the will o’ the wisp, on again, off again air war against North Vietnam, US aircraft were falling to Soviet-installed (and frequently operated) SA-2 missiles.

These growing losses were the genesis of a crash program to equip aircraft with what is called radar homing and warning equipment, or radar warning receivers – which let aircrew know they are being targeted, where that radar is, and what kind it is (search, track, targeting, AAA, etc) – and eventually “anti-radiation” missiles designed to home on emissions from SAM radars and destroy them.  These two elements in concert with exceptionally well-trained and brave crews working aboard dedicated defense-suppression aircraft was, in essence, the Wild Weasel concept.  They were called Wild Weasels because the mission was judged to be similar in intensity and danger to a weasel taking on a poisonous snake.

That’s a background to the videos below, the first two of which are truly excellent.  Produced, I’m sure, in the mid-80s during the height of the Reagan defense buildup, they provide a very loving, very detailed account of the early days of the Wild Weasel program not only from the perspective of the pilots and EWOs who flew the missions, but also the industry teams that provided the life-saving equipment.  There is a great deal of commentary from early leaders of the Wild Weasel community, all of which is very good.  There are also some very intelligent statements about how defense suppression/electronic warfare tends to be one of those mission sets that is the first to get dumped once the pressure of war is no longer present to force the issue.  Sadly, that is exactly what has happened in the Air Force since Desert Storm.

It then turns into sort of an extended commercial on the F-4G Wild Weasel IV or Advanced Wild Weasel, but that oft-ignored aircraft deserves much praise.  It was a dark day when the last Weasels were retired without replacement, and Scott O’Grady’s shootdown weeks later sort of proved the point that they were still needed.

After the first two videos are some more recent ones from the early 90s.  Then, the F-4Gs were leaving service and being replaced with F-16s with scabbed on targeting pods.  Many Wild Weasel professionals gravely doubt the modified F-16CG, as it is called, comes anywhere close to the capabilities of the F-4G.  Fortunately or not, we’ve only been fighting wars against third world goat herders for the past 15 years, with no air defenses to speak of, so the matter has never been put to the test.  But it will be, eventually.

To the vids (warning the first video especially has a few occasions of foul language):

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