Strike Fighter Squadron ONE FIVE FOUR [VFA-154]
Fighter Squadron ONE FIVE FOUR [VF-154]
The Black Knights are currently part of CVW-9, and are based at NAS Lemoore in California. VFA-143 celebrates its 60th anniversary in July of 2006. The Black Knights were redesignated VFA-143, from VF-143 in 2003 to reflect their transition training to the F-18E/F Super Hornet. When a member of CVW-5, the Black Knights of VF-154 were part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF). VF-154 projects power, from the sea. The Black Knights employed the F-14A Tomcat to conduct offensive and defensive counter air warfare, ground attack and tactical air reconnaissance. VF-154 projects this power anywhere in the world by operating from the deck of an aircraft carrier. When not actually engaged in power projection operations, the squadron continually trains to be prepared for them. As an element of Carrier Air Wing 5, forward deployed in Japan, the Black Knights were an essential element of the strategic defense partnership between the United States and Japan.
The unique capabilities of USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) Aviation Intermediate Maintenance Division [AIMD] facility, permanently based aboard the carrier, support VF-154 while at sea and when the squadron is ashore at NAF Atsugi. A speck in the South Pacific, 650 miles south of NAF Atsugi, Iwo Jima serves as VF-154's primary FCLP (Field Carrier Landing Practice) facility. The air wing routinely conducts three to five day detachments a year to Iwo Jima to complete FCLP requirements prior to deployments.
In January 1995 the Black Knights of Fighter Squadron (VF) 154 celebrated 10 years and more than 37,000 hours of mishap-free flight. This milestone was achieved while the Black Knights were participating in flight deck certification aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV 62). Since January 1985, VF 154 has posted an impressive record which included moving to Carrier Air Wing 5 as the first forward-deployed, air-to-ground capable F-14 Tomcat squadron in 1992 and has enjoyed a higher tempo of operation than most F-14 squadrons. Highlights have included: combat operations in support of operations Desert Shield and Southern Watch, joint combined operations off the coast of Australia, exercise Team Spirit near the Republic of Korea, exercise RIMPAC en route to Hawaii and two deployments to the Persian Gulf. The Black Knight maintenance team has posted an incredible record during the past decade including winning the 1992 Battle "E" and the Chief of Naval Operation's 1993 Safety "S" awards.
In early 1998 Fighter Squadron (VF) 154, deployed aboard USS Independence (CV 62) in the Arabian Gulf, converted its Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) from conventional to digital, to record and transmit digital imagery. With the assistance of civilian technical representatives and contractors, the squadron also installed a Digital Camera Receiving Station in the Carrier's Intelligence Center. This brings to the area commander near real-time battle management. This newly implemented technology greatly increased the value of TARPS for the air wing and the battle group. An F-14 carrying the new digital TARPS pod can fly over its target and record images with the digital camera and transmit them back to the ship via existing communications equipment long before the aircraft lands. With Digital TARPS, force commanders are able to receive data, analyze it and make decisions on the battlefield in far less time then it took commanders in Operation Desert Storm. For example, they will be able determine the kinds of air power needed to strike a target before that target can take evasive action.
During 1999 the Digital Flight Control System (DFCS) was incorporated into all squadron aircraft, providing enhanced maneuverability for the F-14. This system modification made VF-154 the first F-14 Squadron to be completely DFCS capable.
In September 1999 the Knights returned from their second subsequent short-notice Arabian Gulf deployment. In the following 15 months, the Knights completed several highly successful deployments including two Fall and one Spring Deployments. Both Fall Deployments afforded the Knights the opportunity to train with Japan and South Korea during Foal Eagle, ANNUALEX, and Keen Sword multi-national exercises. The fast paced Spring 2000 deployment saw the Knights travel with Carrier Air Wing Five aboard USS KITTYHAWK (CV 63) to a number of ports in the Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong. This spring at-sea period was preceded by the very successful completion of the rigorous Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) in Japan and Guam.
The Knights kicked off the New Year with a January 2000 air-to-ground weapons detachment to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. Over the course of two weeks, Black Knight aircrew availed themselves of the opportunity to drop Rockeye cluster bombs, MK 80 series general purpose bombs, and both Laser Guided Training Rounds (LGTR) and GBU-16 Laser Guided Bombs (LGB). Almost immediately following their return to Atsugi, VF-154 began preparations for deck certification aboard USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63), bouncing up and qualifying seven pilots both day and night in late February.
March 2000 found the Knights picking up the pace. With the arrival of instructors from the Strike Weapons and Tactics School Atlantic (SWATSLANT) the squadron kicked off its second Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) with an intense academic cirriculum and air-to-air training sorties, flown from NAF Atsugi. Following the completion of this first phase of training, the squadron packed up and relocated to Andersen Air Base, Guam, along with the F/A-18s and E-2Cs of CVW-5 for the air-to-ground portion of the syllabus. Opposed air-to-ground and self-escort missions were flown, allowing the Knights to practice against a multitude of air and surface threat scenarios. Through the course of the det, VF-154 aircrew had the opportunity to employ MK-80 series weapons, LGTRs, and 16 LGBs. SFARP provided an exceptional training opportunity for the squadron, allowing them to hone their tactical prowess and expend over 63,000 pounds of live and inert ordnance.
There was not much time for the Knights to catch their breath following SFARP. At the end of their stay in Guam they completed the Field Carrier Landing Practice requirements for 14 pilots in just two days, bouncing at Andersen AFB, Guam. Following on the heels of that success, they went on to carrier qualify all squadron pilots aboard the USS KITTY HAWK in less than one day - thirteen hours to be exact. The KITTY HAWK pulled into Guam and, following onload and a short port visit, the Knights departed for spring deployment in the Western Pacific. Cyclic flight operations began almost immediately, and included Close Air Support (CAS) and Forward Air Controller (Airborne) (FAC(A)) training missions conducted with F/A-18 squadrons from CVW-5 and SEAL Team FIVE. Additionally, only a week after pulling out, the Knights successfully launched four AIM-54C Phoenix missiles in a two-day missile exercise, employing both day and night intercept tactics. The month concluded with three days of Combat Search and Rescue exercises conducted with other CVW-5 assets.
Rolling into May 2000, the Knights soon found themselves enjoying traditional WESTPAC port calls in Singapore and, following a short transit, Pattaya Beach, Thailand. Following Pattaya, squadron aircraft deployed to Korat Air Base, Thailand in support of Exercise COBRA GOLD 2000, a combined force exercise that included units from Thailand, Singapore and the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps. Missions were flown both from Korat and USS KITTY HAWK, including Large Force Exercises, Dissimilar Air Combat Training, CAS and FAC(A) missions with the Royal Thai Navy and Air Force. COBRA GOLD concluded on the 22nd and provided excellent training and exchange opportunities for the Knights, including the opportunity to host members of the Thai military aboard the USS KITTY HAWK. The end of May included a port call in Hong Kong, as well as Defensive Combat Air Patrol training and another AIM-54C missile shoot. The USS KITTY HAWK finally returned to Yokosuka at the beginning of June, just in time for the Knights to enjoy the summer at home with family and friends.
Following their return, the Knights slowed things down for a week to settle back in to the beach routine and catch up with loved ones. After a short rest, four Black Knight aircrew departed for San Diego to attend Tactical Air Control Party school, the first step of the FAC(A) qualification. Two pilots also returned to Oceana for LSO school. The Knights that remained in Atsugi during June 2000 focused much of their energy on preparing for NAF Atsugi's annual WINGS air show. Several days of rain ended just in time to allow VF-154, and the rest of CVW-5, to demonstrate their aircraft under clear skies to a crowd of 450,000 Japanese admirers. The ever-impressive F-14 demo flown by the Knights' Skipper, CDR Randy "Gus" King and LT James "Goat Boy" Bates, was the hands down crowd favorite.
To celebrate a successful deployment and air show, CVW-5 hosted its own version of the well-known Fighter Flings and Strike Fighter weeks held in CONUS. CVW-5, callsign BADMAN, hosted Badman Week 2000 festivities, which commenced on 10 July 2000. The sports portion of the event gave the Knights the opportunity to compete against the other air wing squadrons in softball, volleyball, flag football, golf, skeet, bowling, racqetball and a 5K run. Each day concluded with a social event sponsored by the varied participants. The week ended with a formal cocktail party. Badman week proved to be a great opportunity for the Knights to further strengthen the already close ties with other CVW-5 squadrons ... as well as the opportunity to gloat over the many athletic victories.
After a short break afforded by the WINGS and Badman Week, Black Knights found themselves on the road again. Completing the training they began in San Diego earlier this summer, 154's newest FAC(A) candidates completed their training at Osan Air Base, Korea. The late-summer schedule of VF-154 was extremely busy. August found the Knights preparing for an aircraft material condition inspection (AMCI) and a visit by the Fighter Wing Commodore, CAPT Mark Clemente. CAPT Clemente chose to visit the Knights to observe the inspection and to familiarize himself with the unique factors particular to the forward deployed life of the Black Knights.
As the summer drew on, the Knights again began to focus on the upcoming fall deployment. VF-154 deployed aboard the USS KITTY HAWK in September 2000 for annual training exercises with both the Republic of Korea and Japan.
Following the attacks upon America on September 11th, VF-154 put to sea and in a span of only three days carrier qualified fourteen pilots under very demanding conditions, and was then immediately ready to go to war; an extraordinary achievement which was possible only because of the professionalism of the squadron's aircrew.
During the spring of 2002 the Black Knights embarked on the USS KITTY HAWK (CV63) for six weeks visiting the ports of Hong Kong, Singapore and Guam and participated in exercises with the Singapore Navy. During cruise VF-154 earned the prestigious "Top Hook" award from CVW-5 for best landing grades in the air wing; a major achievement for any Tomcat squadron. Summer was busy with a detachment to Guam to practice the intricacies of air-to-ground employment. In the fall the squadron spent another six weeks embarked aboard the USS KITTY HAWK. During this cruise VF-154 participated in ANNUALEX and KEEN SWORD, multinational exercises hosted by Japan, before returning to port only to have to set sail once again on very short notice for a very important mission.
In January 2003, VF-154 set sail aboard the USS KITTY HAWK with less than a week of preparation for potential combat operations. Bound for the Arabian Gulf, the USS KITTY HAWK and VF-154 joined coalition forces in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) and waged war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. During their three months at sea and participation in OIF, the Black Knights flew nearly 300 combat sorties and dropped over 350 bombs totaling over 239,000 pounds (120 tons) of ordnance while operating simultaneously from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar and from the flight deck of the USS KITTY HAWK. Aircrew's average flight hours per month doubled and almost tripled during OIF. During the war, VF-154's maintenance department demonstrated why they were awarded the Commander, Fighter Wing Atlantic Golden Wrench award for 2002 and were nominated for the Secretary of Defense Maintenance Award by continuing to keep an aging aircraft fully mission capable and ready to conduct combat operations.
In September of 2003 the Black Knights left Atsugi for the last time and ended their proud 13 years in Japan and 20 years in the Tomcat. A month later, VF-154 was redesignated VFA-154 at their new home at NAS Lemoore, California, and began transitioning to the Navy's newest strike fighter, the F/A-18F Super Hornet. They completed their first Super Hornet cruise in the summer of 2005 aboard the USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70).
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