The F-16 Fighting Falcon, in addition to being a premier air-to-air combat platform also performs a very important mission called SEAD or Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. Also known as “Wild Weasel” the mission is to enter enemy airspace early and disrupt or destroy their air defenses. This allows the main strike package of aircraft to attack targets with a much lower risk of being shot down.
The fundamental origin of the Wild Weasel mission was created to protect strike aircraft from enemy surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites in Vietnam that fired missiles from the ground in an effort to destroy aircraft or other airborne missiles. The Weasels would enter enemy territory to search for SAM sites and when the SAMs turned on they would shoot them before the site shot back.
This idea created the unofficial motto of the Wild Weasels — an acronym known as “YGBSM.” It was derived from the response of former B-52 Stratofortress Electronic warfare officer, Jack Donovan, upon hearing about the plan of the mission:
“You want me to fly in the back of a little tiny fighter aircraft with a crazy fighter pilot who thinks he’s invincible, hone in on a SAM site in North Vietnam, and shoot it before it shoots me, you gotta be sh***in’ me!” – Pacific Air Forces
Wild Weasel units are also known for their more official motto of “First In, Last Out“. During the Vietnam War the mere appearance of ‘Wild Weasel’ aircraft would have great physiological impact on enemy personnel operating the SAM sites causing many to turn off their radar in fear of being targeted by a missile strike from one of the SEAD aircraft. With the SAM sites radar turned off the surface to air missile would not track and be of little threat.
The SEAD mission started roughly 50 years ago with F-100 Super Sabres, and then moved to using the F-105 Thunderchief. SEAD also played an important role in the Persian Gulf War during Operation Desert Storm. The Air Force flew almost 4000 SEAD missions destroying about 200 Iraqi military surface to air missile sites, this time using the F-4 Phantom.
Anyone have experience flying SEAD? Were you a Wild Weasel pilot? Let us hear your stories by commenting below.
Featured image of US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons with the 35th Fighter Wing flying a training mission over Misawa Air Base, Japan, Feb. 14, 2013. Photo by Jake Melampy, US Air Force.