15th Strike Wing
The mission of the 15th Strike Wing is to conduct tactical air operations in support of Armed Forces of the Philippines units. The unit is headquartered at Danilo Atienza Air Base, Sangley Point, Cavite, just outside the capital Manila. The Wing, as of 2009, was organized with Personal, Coordinating and Technical Staff. Under the Wing's command were units broken up into 3 major groups: Tactical, Maintenance and Supply, and Air Base. The Wing's tactical elements included the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th Attack Squadrons and the 25th Composite Attack Squadron. Many of these units were forward deployed under the operational control of the Philippine Air Force's numerous Tactical Operations Groups. The 460th Maintenance and Supply Group and the 590th Air Base Group filled the other roles.
The 15th Strike Wing was first organized and activated as a provisional unit on 26 November 1973, at Sangley Point, Cavite City, with the mission of conducting counter-insurgency and special warfare operations. Initially, the Wing had 6 T-34 Mentors and 6 T-28 Trojans, mostly acquired from the 100th Training Wing and 5th Fighter Wing. 10 airmen were sent to the 410th Air Materiel Wing to undergo maintenance on-the-job training (OJT) in February 1974. Additional personnel were assigned to the Wing and by the end of the year the unit had 27 officers and 288 airmen.
On 1 July 1974 the 18th Maintenance and Supply Squadron (which would eventually be reorganized as the 461st Field Maintenance Squadron) was activated. On 1 August 1974 the 16th Attack Squadron was organized in anticipation of the delivery of T-28D aircraft from Vietnam. The 17th Attack Squadron was activated on 1 October 1974 and was expected to recieve the first delivery of SIAI-FRAT-260 Warriors (SF-260W). However, for several months after the unit's activation the squadron had only one T-34A Mentor assigned to it. The first batch of the Italian-made, locally assembled SF-260W aircraft would arrive in late February 1975.
On 16 October 1974, the 302nd Special Operations Squadron, previously assigned to the Headquarters, Philippine Air Force, was placed under the command of the 15th Strike Wing. On 18 October 1974, the Wing received the first batch of T-28D aircraft, fresh from the Vietnam War. The United States Air Force provided training and eventually checked out 4 instructor pilots. The pilots made a smooth transition to the T-28D, bringing forth a new generation of PAF pilots: Attack Pilots. Conceptualized mainly to fight insurgency in the country, these pilots were to specialize in Close Air Support and Air Interdiction against the enemies of the state.
On 18 February 1975, after training a handful of Combat-Ready Pilots, the Wing deployed 4 T-28D aircraft to Edwin Andrews Air Base, Zamboanga City, in support of SOWESCOM operations. On 21 February 1975 the first air strike in 15th Strike Wing's history took place in Kandiis in Basilan.
On 17 March 1975, 3 SF-260W aircraft were deployed at the 15th Strike Wing Advance Command Post at Francisco Bangoy Airport, Davao City. On 15 April 1975, the SF-260Ws wreaked havoc on rebel encampments in Balabagan, Sapakan and Reina Regente, in Central Mindanao.
With the acquisition of additional T-28D aircraft from Udorn Air Force Base in Thailand, another unit, the 25th Attack Squadron, was activated on 29 March 1976. It was given the task of providing close air support to ground and naval forces in the newly organized Western Command, which was then under the concurrent command of the 15th Strike Wing Commander. The 25th Attack Squadron was initially organized with 72 officers and 36 enlisted personnel. On 13 April 1976, 3 aircraft of the 15th Strike Wing landed at Puerto Princesa. They were subsequently deployed to Kalayaan.
In May 1976, a number of HU-16 Albatross aircraft was transferred to 15th Strike Wing from the 530th Air Base Group in Zamboanga. The aircraft were employed as a search and rescue aircraft as part of the newly activated 27th Search, Rescue and Reconnaissance Squadron. Armed with rockets, the HU-16 Albatrosses was utilized as Forward Air Controller and SAR aircraft with limited close air support capability. The Wing also had the C-47 aircraft, which were used to ferry personnel, supplies and equipment, and perform other expeditious missions to ensure rapid deployment effectiveness.
Towards the end of the 1970s oil prices doubled, thus resulting to decrease in flying operations. A crippling shortage of spare parts was also felt by 1979. As a result, a drastic reorganization move was put in place to increase the operational rate of the assigned aircraft. A provisional unit, the 20th Combat Support Group, was activated to consolidate all support units.
For the 15th Strike Wing, the 1980's also ushered in major changes. In anticipation of the arrival of new AUH-76 helicopters, the 20th Air Commando Squadron was activated on 1 October 1983. In 1984, President Ferdinand Marcos facilitated the acquisition of Sikorsky AUH-76 helicopters, which the Philippine Air Force configured as a weapons platform with rockets and machine guns. Two Sikorsky S-70As (the civilian version of the US military's Blackhawk) also arrived together with the 3 AUH-76s. Two of the AUH-76 helicopters were configured as rescue helicopters. This led to the 505th Air Rescue Squadron, previously assigned to the 205th Helicopter Wing, being placed under the command of the 15th Strike Wing control on 1 April 1984. As an attack helicopter, the AUH-76 saw action not only in Mindanao, but also in the Visayas and Northern Luzon as well.
In early 1983, before the arrival of the AUH-76s, the 15th Strike Wing's SF-260Ws were transferred to the 100th Training Wing. As a result, the 25th Attack Squadron was inactivated on 1 October 1983.
The political tension that pervaded the country after the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. caused economic instability that spelled budgetary cuts for the government. With the resulting drain on personnel and equipment, the 17th Attack Squadron was inactivated on 1 August 1985, leaving the 16th Attack Squadron as the only tactical squadron under 15th Strike Wing.
During the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, elements of the 15th Strike Wing sided with anti-Marcos rebels. The Wing Commander, then Colonel Antonio E. Sotelo, led a flight of Sikorsky gunships to join forces with rebel forces at Camp Crame. The "Sotelo Landing" tilted the balance in favor of the Enrile-Ramos faction and inspired other military commanders as well. This revolution eventually led to the end of the Marcos Regime. Following this, Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno Aquino Jr., assumed the position of President of the Republic. Consequently, the military enjoyed renewed respect and confidence from the populace.
The high regard for the military deteriorated as coup d'etats plagued the Aquino Administration. Sangley Point was not spared. In January 1987, Marcos loyalists simultaneously held a so-called "Military Exercise" at Villamor Air Base and Sangley Air Base. The purpose of the coup attempt was to grab the leadership of the command in support of a plan to overthrow the Aquino Administration. Several officers of the Wing were held at gunpoint at the Wing Operations Center or were held hostage elsewhere. However, the coup attempt was not successful because majority of the officers and men of the Wing remained loyal to the existing government. Before the end of the day, command and control of the Wing had been restored.
On 28 August 1987, another attempt to overthrow the Aquino Government was mounted. Again, the 15th Strike Wing stood with the government. At the height of the tension, at the time when rebel forces had control over TV 13 and the General Headquarters building, 2 T-28Ds took off from Sangley Point and proceeded to Balara Relay Station and released deadly warnings in the vicinity of the area occupied by rebel soldiers. Later in the afternoon, the T-28Ds struck with precision against identified targets at Camp Aguinaldo. These events eventually led the rebels to raise the white flag, thus ending the coup attempt.
Other drastic changes were happening at Sangley in 1987. The assets of the 240th Composite Wing was merged into the 15th Strike Wing. The 240th Composite Wing had been inactivated on 16 January 1987. On 24 February 1987 Sangley Air Base was recognized as a single-wing base. The 15th Strike Wing functioned both as a tactical unit and as as the managing authority at Sangley Air Base. With the increase in manpower and equipment, the 505th Air Rescue Squadron was transferred back to the 205th Helicopter Wing on 16 July 1987.
In December 1989, the 15th Strike Wing was one of the focal points of another coup attempt, which turned out to be the bloodiest. On 30 November 1989, coup plotters began occupying Sangley Air Base, which was considered their base. By midnight, all aircraft were already under the control of the rebel soldiers. Other base facilities and vital installations also fell into their hands. By early morning of 1 December 1989, rebel pilots were already set to launch air strikes. In the first 7 days of December, T-28Ds piloted by rebel pilots strafed Malacañang Palace grounds.
With Sangley Air Base under their control, the rebels had the upper hand. The government realized the implications of this situation and tasked the 5th Fighter Wing with responding the rebel air strikes. By the following morning, a flight of F-5s led by Major Danilo S. Atienza, performed a persuasion flight over Sangley Air Base. The rebels refused to change course and the F-5 pilots were later directed to retake Sangley at all costs. In the end air strikes were conducted, inflicting heavy damage on aircraft and facilities controlled by the enemy. Major Atienza himself was killed after flames from the explosion of a fuel depot engulfed his F-5. More than two years later, on 5 May 1992, the airfield of Sangley was renamed Major Danilo S. Atienza Airfield pursuant to Republic Act 7429 in recognition of his role in the response to the coup attempt.
Changes also occurred at 15th Strike Wing towards the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. On 15 July 1990, the 17th Air Commando Squadron and the 25th Air Commando Training Squadron were reactivated. The 601st Liaison Squadron, the only squadron from the 240th Composite Wing to have survived its parent unit's inactivation was also ianctivated at the same time.
The right mix of aircraft was realized in the early 1990's. The AFP Weapons Board approved the order for the delivery of MD-520MG Defender attack helicopters in April 1990. Equipped with .50 caliber machine guns and 7-tube rocket pods, the helicopters were expected to boost the effectiveness of counter-insurgency operations. This development prompted the activation of another unit, the 18th Tactical Air Support Squadron, on 2 May 1990. 5 officers and 8 enlisted personnel were sent to Arizona, USA, for training. On 1 October 1990, the first 4 MD-520s landed at Sangley Air Base. Immediately, pilot training was conducted. The training was completed within a few months. On 16 February 1991, the MD-520s performed their first air strike in support of government troops operating against NPA rebels in Abra.
By 1991, only a few T-28Ds were still fully mission capable. Through the Foreign Military Sales, the US Government agreed to sell 24 OV-10A Broncos to the AFP. On 12 November 1991, a simple turnover ceremony was held at Villamor Air Base for the first 5 Broncos. A week after, Bronco pilots arrived from a 4-month transition training at Shaw Air Force Base, in South Carolina, in the United States.
The OV-10A Broncos were assigned to 16th Attack Squadron, while the remaining T-28Ds were transferred to 17th Attack Squadron. The T-28Ds, after so many years in service with the PAF, were retired from the service as more and more OV-10s arrived. Subsequently, the 17th Attack Squadron was also equipped with OV-10s. On 11 February 1992, the Wing's two Britten-Norman Islanders were turned over to the 220th Airlift Wing.
By the last quarter of 1994, the last 5 MD-520MGs arrived at Sangley Air Base, completing the 32-aircraft order for the Philippine Government. The 5 MD-520s were then assigned to the 20th Assault Squadron (previously the 20th Air Commando Squadron), in preparation for the unit's shift to operating only one type of aircraft.
In April 1996, the remaining AUH-76s were transferred to the 505th Search and Rescue Squadron, then part of the 205th Tactical Operations Wing. This was part of a move to upgrade the squadron to the 505th Search and Rescue Group. With this transfer, the 20th Assault Squadron solely operated MD-520s. The PAF remained hard pressed to keep up its aircraft inventory however, which led to the inactivation of the 17th Attack Squadron in March 1998.
The 17th Attack Squadron was reactivated on 16 July 2001, equipped with SF-260TPs. This development proved to be timely as just a few months after the squadron's reactivation, the unit unleashed an overwhelming display of air power against the Misuari Renegade Group in Zamboanga City on 27 November 2001.
In 2003 the 18th and 20th Assault Squadrons were redesignated as the 18th and 20th Attack Squadrons, respectively, pursuant to General Orders Number 163, dated 28 April 2003. To further reinforce the fighting power of the Philippine Air Force in the south the 15th Strike Wing reorganized the 25th Attack Squadron. On 19 July 2004, the 25th Attack Squadron was redesignated as the 25th Composite Attack Squadron. The unit was based with 3rd Tactical Operations Wing at Edwin Andrews Air Base, Zamboanga City. The unit was envisioned to manage, operate and maintain the Wing's assets in Mindanao, including the OV-10 Bronco, MD-520MG and SF-260TP aircraft. Thirty-four officers and enlisted personnel were assigned to the new unit.
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