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Sixteenth Air Force

Sixteenth Air Force, headquartered at Aviano Air Base, Italy, is one of two numbered air forces that comprise the U.S. Air Forces in Europe command. It is also the southern air component of the U.S. European Command.

The mission of Sixteenth Air Force is to execute aerospace operations through expeditionary force command and control in support of the U.S. European Command and NATO. Supporting this mission, 16th AF plans and executes combat air operations in southern Europe and portions of the Middle East and northern Africa as an air component or joint task force headquarters; supports approximately 11,000 Air Force and civilian members at two main operating bases, four support bases and other sites in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and Israel; and conducts peacetime engagement throughout the region.

Sixteenth Air Force is the U.S. European Command's Air Force "war fighter" in the region, with forces continuously engaged in peace enforcement, humanitarian relief, crisis response, air deterrence or combat operations. With more expeditionary wings than permanent wings, 16th AF leads the Air Force expeditionary culture. In this "warfighting" and expeditionary leadership role, 16th AF supports Balkans peace enforcement and northern Iraq no-fly zone enforcement.

The 16th AF area of interest contains NATO's southern lines of communications, waterway choke points to half of the world's shipping, the crossroads of Islam and Christianity, and some of the world's major oil-producing countries. This vast area is currently experiencing unparalleled levels of political, ethnic, religious and economic tension which threatens regional stability and NATO interests.

More than 11,500 Americans, military and civilian, comprise the Sixteenth Air Force. Equipment assets include the F-16 Fighting Falcon, with contingency support to the F-15 Eagle, KC-135 Stratotanker, E-3B Sentry (AWACS), U-2 Dragonlady, MC-130P Combat Shadow, HH-60 Pave Hawk, RQ-1A Predator and a full complement of conventional weapons.

Sixteenth Air Force operates two main operating bases: Aviano Air Base, Italy, home to the 31st Fighter Wing; and Incirlik AB, Turkey, home to the 39th Wing. Sixteenth Air Force also operates three expeditionary wings: the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing, Aviano AB, Italy; the 39th Air and Space Expeditionary Wing, Incirlik AB, Turkey, and the 16th Air Expeditionary Wing, headquartered at Aviano AB, Italy.

The 16th AEW operates expeditionary sites at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo; Camp Able Sentry, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Sarajevo and Tuzla AB, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Taszar AB, Hungary; Zagreb, Croatia; Istres AB, France; and Naval Air Station Sigonella and San Vito Air Station, Italy; in addition to a contingency processing center at Rhein-Main AB, Germany. 16th AF operates support bases in Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Originated as a separate operating agency, this postwar numbered air force served both Strategic Air Command and United States Air Forces in Europe. Established as Joint United States Military Group, Air Administration (Spain), on 20 May 1954. Activated on 20 May 1954 at Madrid, Spain, as a separate operating agency (SOA) of the United States Air Force. The administration was attached to the Joint U.S. Military Group, which oversaw implementation of the 1953 Spanish-American Defense Cooperation Agreement.

In 1956, the administration was re-designated as Headquarters, 16th AF, and aligned directly under Headquarters, U.S. Air Force. Existing Spanish air force bases were expanded near Madrid, Sevilla and Zaragoza. In 1957, 16th AF was realigned under the Strategic Air Command. Main operating bases in Spain were used for SAC B-47 rotational alert aircraft until April 1965.

16th AF also operated SAC bases in Morocco from 1958 through 1963. In 1966, a year after SAC withdrew its B-47 alert force from Spain, 16th AF was reassigned to U.S. Air Forces in Europe. The 401st Tactical Fighter Wing, with three squadrons of F-100Ds, moved from the United States to Torrejon, AB, Spain. The wing later converted to F-4 Phantoms, and in 1983, to F-16 Fighting Falcons.

The 401st FW moved from Spain to Aviano AB, Italy, in May 1992 and was re-designated as the 31st FW in April 1994. It has two squadrons of F-16C/Ds. Headquarters, 16th AF moved to Aviano AB in August 1992. Throughout 1994, 16th AF supported Operation Deny Flight, enforcing the U.N. ordered no-fly zone over Bosnia. Sixteenth Air Force aircraft participated in the raid on the Bosnian-Serb held airfield at Ubdina in November 1994. In the fall of 1995, 16th AF supported Operation Deliberate Force, the U.N.-sanctioned/NATO executed attacks on Bosnian-Serb forces. In 1995, 16th AF supported Joint Endeavor, the NATO peacekeeping mission to the former Yugoslavia, through operations in Croatia, Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The years 1996 through 1998 saw continued high operations in 16th AF. It was the first Air Force organization to fully employ the expeditionary wing concept. The 16th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force, consisting of the 16th and 31st Air Expeditionary Wings, activated in support of Operation Joint Guard, and its air component, Operation Deliberate Guard, engaging air power for peace enforcement operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina (These operations continue today as Operation Joint Forge, and it's air component, Operation Deliberate Forge). The 39th Air & Space Expeditionary Wing activated in support of Operation Northern Watch, engaging air power to enforce the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. These expeditionary units stand today as the models for presentation of air forces for the rest of the world.

Headquarters 16th AF formed the joint force air component command for Operation Silver Wake, the successful evacuation of Americans and allied noncombatants from Albania. The 31st Fighter Wing was the first F-16 Falcon unit to fly combat missions utilizing night vision goggles, and wing aircraft provided close air support during Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Sarajevo. Today the wing remains a major participant in support of Balkan air operations. The 39th Wing at Incirlik AB, Turkey, deployed a flying ambulance surgical team to Dhahran AB, Saudi Arabia in response to the Khobar Towers terrorist attack. The wing assisted in the evacuation of nearly 6,500 pro-U.S. Kurds from northern Iraq. Today it remains a lead organization in support of no-fly zone enforcement over northern Iraq.

Beginning in March 1999, the 16th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force grew to 10 air expeditionary wings and 480 Air Force aircraft in 10 countries supporting Operation Allied Force, NATO's air campaign in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. Approximately 13,200 airmen, in addition to 32,000 airmen through Europe, deployed in support of the 78-day air campaign that led to Serbian withdrawal of forces from the province of Kosovo.



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