The pilots at the controls of the two F-16 jets that collided over Georgia this week are seasoned combat veterans — and so are the jets they were flying. The planes were built in 1993 and have flown hundreds of combat missions, including the fiery 2003 attack on Baghdad dubbed “Shock and Awe,” according to commanders of the South Carolina National Guard.

The pilots were part of a six-plane unit practicing a high-tech “cat-and-mouse game” of electronic warfare at the time of the crash, said South Carolina Guard commander Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston.

“It’s a specialty of this wing,” the two-star general told reporters Wednesday, speaking on the tarmac where the 169th Fighter Wing is based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base.

The strategy calls for the warplanes to be the first to enter enemy territory, where they use sophisticated electronics to find and destroy an opponent’s radars and anti-aircraft missile sites. This makes it safer for U.S. or allied ground troops, follow-on bombers and fighter aircraft to move forward and hit targets behind enemy lines.

Wing commander Col. Nicholas Gentile said the jets in his unit are single-pilot F-16C “Flying Falcons” built in 1993. He said they carry the technical designation “Block 52,” which refers to upgrades that are designed to make them some of the most advanced F-16s in the U.S. Air Force.

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Image courtesy of Air National Guard