23rd Fighter Squadron (23d FS)
In late 2010, as part of the Combat Air Forces Restructuring Plan, the 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons were inactivated and had 21 of their aircraft reassigned to the 148th Fighter Wing, Minnesota Air National Guard. The remaining aircraft and squadron personnel were consolidated into the 480th Fighter Squadron, which was activated in their place assigned to the 52nd Operations Group.
The 23rd Fighter Squadron, the "Fighting Hawks," was constituted as 23rd Pursuit Squadron (Interceptor) on 22 December 1939 and activated on 1 February 1940 at Kelly Field, Texas flying the flying the P-36 Hawk and evaluating the YP-37. The Squadron also operated from Brooks Field, Texas. In November 1940, the Squadron moved to Langley Field, Virginia. In January 1941, the unit moved to Losey Field, Puerto Rico and then to St Croix, Virgin Islands in May 1941, before moving back to Losey Field in November 1941.
Following the formal US entry into the Second World War, the unit moved to Vega Baja, Puerto Rico on 13 December 1941 to begin conducting anti-submarine patrols in the Caribbean. It operated detachments elsewhere in Puerto Rico and from St Thomas during these operations, which ended for the Squadron in April 1943. The Squadron had been flying the P-39 and P-40 aircraft. During this period the Squadron was redesignated as the 23rd Fighter Squadron 15 May 1942.
In mid-1943, the Squadron returned to the continental United States where it received P-47 aircraft and prepared for deployment to the European Theater of Operations. In April 1944, the 23rd Fighter Squadron deployed to Royal Air Force Kingsnorth, England, and Ninth Air Force's 36th Fighter Group. The Squadron earned the Distinguished Unit Citation in September 1944 for missions flown from England and forward bases in France supporting the D-Day invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Between October 1944 and January 1945, while operating from airfields in Belgium, the Squadron earned 2 citations in the Belgian Army Order of the Day, as well as the Belgium Fourragerre. The unit was awarded a second Distinguished Unit Citation for action in Germany during April 1945. After serving in Germany as part of the occupation forces after the end of the Second World War, the Squadron was inactivated on 31 March 1946.
The squadron was reactivated on 15 October 1946 at Howard Field in the US-controlled Canal Zone in Panama, flying first the P-47 and then the P-80 (later F-80) aircraft. The unit was redesignated as the 23rd Fighter Squadron, Jet Propelled, on 27 October 1947 and then as the 23rd Fighter Squadron, Jet, on 17 June 1948.
In August 1948, the Squadron returned to Germany coming to be based at Furstenfeldbruck Air Base. There the 23rd Fighter Squadron helped form the Skyblazers, an aerial demonstration team and forerunner to the Thunderbirds. It also provided tactical fighter support for ground forces training. To support this mission, the Squadron was assigned F-84 aircraft and redesignated as the 23rd Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 20 January 1950.
In November 1952, the Squadron moved to Bitburg Air Base, Germany, as part of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. In 1953, the Squadron began receiving the F-86 aircraft, becoming the first squadron in Europe to fly the type, and was redesignated the 23 Fighter-Day Squadron on 9 August 1954. It was also the first squadron in Europe to fly the F-100 Super Sabre (1956), the F-105 Thunderchief (1961), and the F-4 Phantom II (1966). During this period, the Squadron received two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards and was redesignated as the 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron on 8 July 1958. Between 1955 and 1958, the Squadron trained to maintain combat capability. It was tasked with special weapons (nuclear) operations from 1958-1961 and conducted nuclear and conventional tactical air operations from 1962 until 1975.
The 23rd Tactical Fighter Squadron was assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany on 31 December 1971 and in January 1972 became part of the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing. The 23rd converted to F-4E and F-4G Wild Weasels in 1982 and began flying defense suppression missions. In July 1987, the F-16C Fighting Falcon replaced the F-4E.
In January 1991, as part of US deployments to Southwest Asia, the 23rd Fighter Squadron deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. During Operation Proven Force, F-16Cs and F-4Gs from the Squadron flew nearly 1,000 defense suppression, combat air patrol, and interdiction missions over Iraq without a single loss. In addition, the Squadron earned the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor for its part in driving the Iraqi army from Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.
In September 1991, the Squadron's remaining F-4Gs were replaced by F-16Cs. The Squadron was also redesignated as the 23rd Fighter Squadron on 1 October 1991. In July 1993, the 23rd Fighter Squadron was the first US unit to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina for Operation Deny Flight. In January 1994, the Squadron received the first F-16CJ Block 50 aircraft.
In the summer of 1995 the F-16 squadrons from Aviano were joined in Operation Deliberate Force by 8 Block 50 F-16C/CJ aircraft from the 23rd Fighter Squadron from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Operation Deliberate Force was the largest air assault in NATO history and the Squadron unit flew 224 sorties during the air campaign against Bosnian Serb forces. These aircraft flew with AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation (HARM) missiles and the new HARM targeting system (HTS) pod. They completed daily missions over Bosnia hunting for Bosnian surface-to-air missile sites, which were lying in wait to shoot down allied aircraft. Pilots from the 23rd Fighter Squadron fired 9 HARMs during the operation. The 23rd Fighter Squadron's F-16s teamed with USAF EF-111A Raven jammers and US Navy EA-6B Prowler SEAD aircraft during the missions.
In the summer of 1996 some 500 people, 36 jets and tons of equipment moved to Incirlik Air Base as the 366th Wing from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, mounted the largest single unit swap out in the 5-year history of Operation Provide Comfort. The 366th Wing deployment brought a force equal to nearly half of all Air Force people assigned to Operation Provide Comfort. They replaced the 23rd Fighter Squadron from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, along with the 492nd and 493rd Fighter Squadrons from RAF Lakenheath, England. For their outstanding contributions to the US Air Forces in Europe's mission, the 23rd Fighter Squadron was selected in May 1996 to receive the Commander's Trophy as the "Best Fighter Squadron in the Command," their third time to win this distinction.
The Air Force reassigned several aircraft belonging to US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) in FY99. The moves complied with a 1996 Combat Air Forces decision to return fighter squadrons to a standard size of 24 primary assigned aircraft, and allowed USAFE fighter units to better support normal operations during partial squadron deployments. Command fighter units were previously made up of 18 assigned aircraft. The reorganization affected Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. Spangdahlem's 23rd Fighter Squadron gained 6 F-16 aircraft from the Combat Air Force's attrition reserve fleet. The 23rd Fighter Squadron received 6 new F-16CJ's later in 1999.
The 23rd Fighter Squadron deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy assigned to the 31st Air Expeditionary Wing, to support Operation Allied Force in 1999. The squadron supported the NATO mission to degrade and damage the military and security structure that the Yugoslav President used to destroy the Albanian majority in Kosovo. During Allied Force, the 23rd Fighter Squadron flew over 1000 combat sorties and fired 191 HARM missiles to silence the over 100 surface to air missile sites in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Captain Sonny Blinkinsop received a Silver Star for destroying a surface-to-air missile site after it had launched missiles at his wingman, but before the site could guide the airborne missiles against the aircraft.
The North Sea hosted a strange sight as dozens of F-15 Eagles and F-16 Falcons grappled for air supremacy. The 23rd Fighter Wing from Spangdahlem Air Base visited the 48th Fighter Wing between 14 and 25 February 2000 to practice dissimilar air combat tactics. In Germany, the Squadron rarely had the chance to fight dissimilar aircraft, instead flying a lot against other other F-16CJs. The Squadron brought 6 F-16CJ aircraft, along with 14 pilots and 64 maintenance and other support members to RAF Lakenheath, to support training during day and night using night-vision goggles.
Approximately 200 US airmen and 10 F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 23rd Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, arrived at Malacky Air Base, Slovakia on 1 April 2000 for a 2-week deployment. A bi-lateral agreement between Slovakia and the United States for support from the Slovak air force at Malacky and use of the nearby Kuchyna bombing range allows US pilots in Europe to expand their training while strengthening ties of friendship between the 2 nations. For the Slovak air force, the agreement meant partial funding for airfield and range operations, interoperability, and familiarization between pilots from the 2 nations, and closer military ties to the United States and possibly other NATO-member nations. The US Air Force tentatively planned to deploy to the base 3 times during 2000 in 2-week increments. With the exception of aircraft noise during those 2-week periods, use of the range by the United States would not be heard by neighboring communities. Slovak aircraft normally dropped live munitions on these ranges, and a Memorandum of Understanding between both countries allowed US fighters to do the same. US aircraft did not drop live munitions on their first deployment. Instead, the F-16s dropped non-explosive munitions on the range. The F-16s carried live rounds on aircraft guns and train by firing on ground targets on the range.
From November 2000 to March 2001, the 23rd Fighter Squadron deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch to patrol the southern no-fly zone over Iraq. During the deployment, the Squadron provided suppression of enemy air defenses in both air-to-ground and air-to-air roles. In March of 2001, the 23rd Fighter Squadron provided SEAD for the largest strike in Iraq since Operation Desert Fox. During the strike to take out command and control facilities in Iraq, the 23rd Fighter Squadron ensured the safety of all allied strikers. After the events of 11 September 2001, the 23rd Fighter Squadron also flew sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
The Squadron deployed again from April to July 2002 to Incirlik AB, Turkey, for Operation Northern Watch to patrol the northern no-fly zone. During the deployment the Squadron was called on to provide SEAD for strikes against ground targets located in northern Iraq. Squadron pilots came under fire numerous times while providing SEAD for coalition aircraft, once firing 2 HARM shots suppressing an Iraqi surface radar site that targeted friendly aircraft.
In January 2003, elements of the Squadron forward deployed to Southwest Asia in support of US Central Command (CENTCOM) and flew combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Squadron played a key role during the 27-day air war by fulfilling it's mission of suppressing enemy air defenses and destroying Iraqi radar sites.
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