In early 1991, the Air Force announced that the 366th would become the Air Force's premier "air intervention" composite wing. The wing would grow from a single-squadron of EF-111As to a dynamic, five squadron wing with the ability to deploy rapidly and deliver integrated combat airpower. This resulted from General Merrill A. McPeak, then Chief of Staff of the Air Force (CSAF) and his belief that creating standing composite wings, wherein one commander would control all types of aircraft to defeat an enemy, would streamline and shorten tactical planning. General McPeak expressed that a composite wing would make "smaller mistakes because it works and trains together in peacetime. It knows the playbook. In other words, it can exploit the inherent flexibility of air power".
The air intervention composite wing's rapid transition from concept to reality began in October of 1991 when redesignated as the 366th Wing. The wing's newly reactivated "fighter squadrons" became part of the composite wing in March 1992. The 389th Fighter began flying the dual-role F-16C Fighting Falcon, while the 391st Fighter Squadron was equipped with the new F-15E Strike Eagle. These two squadrons provide Gunfighters round-the-clock precision strike capability.
In June 1992, as part of Air Force restructuring, Strategic Air Command and Tactical Air Command merged to form Air Combat Command. A month later, the 366th also gained the 34th Bomb Squadron. Located at Castle AFB, California, the 34th flew the B-52G Stratofortress, giving the composite wing deep interdiction bombing capabilities as the only B-52 unit armed with the deadly, long-range HAVE NAP missile. Next, in September 1992, Air Force redesignated the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron as the 390th Fighter Squadron, which began flying the Air Force's premier air superiority aircraft, the F-15C Eagle. With its internal 20-millimeter cannon and air-to-air missiles, the F-15C protects the wing's high-value assets from enemy air threats. At the same time, Air Force activated the 429th Electronic Combat Squadron, which assumed control of the wing's EF-111A aircraft as they prepared to transfer to Canon AFB, New Mexico.
During this buildup, however, the wing's Ravens remained busy flying combat missions over Iraq, both from Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Calm, and from Incirlik AB, Turkey, in support of Operation Provide Comfort. In June 1993, however, the wing transferred its remaining EF-111As and the 429th ECS to Cannon AFB, ending Mountain Home's long association with the various models of the F-111 aircraft.
In October 1992, the composite wing gained its final flying squadron when the 22nd Air Refueling Squadron was activated and equipped with the KC-135R Stratotankers. These tankers give the wing its ability to deploy globally at a moment's notice.
1 January 1994, the 366th Wing consisted of the following squadrons and aircraft:
- 22nd Air Refueling Squadron, KC-135R Stratotanker
- 34th Bomb Squadron, B-52G Stratofortress (At Castle AFB, California)
- 389th Fighter Squadron, F-16C Flying Falcon
- 390th Fighter Squadron, F-15C Eagle
- 391st Fighter Squadron. F-15E Strike Eagle
In another change, on April 1, 1994, the 34th Bomb Squadron transferred its flag to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. At the same time the squadron's B-52Gs were retired, making way for the squadron to be equipped with the technologically advanced B-1B Lancer. Next, a gradual transfer of the B-1s from Ellsworth to Mountain Home began in August 1996. The squadron completed a move to Mountain Home on April 1, 1997, when its flag was officially transferred to the Gunfighter home base. Also in 1996, the wing gained yet another operational squadron. On June 21st, the 726th Air Control Squadron was reassigned from Shaw AFB, South Carolina, to Mountain Home. The new squadron brought mobile radar surveillance, and command and control capabilities to the composite wing.
In the summer of 1996 some 500 people, 36 jets and tons of equipment moved to Incirlik as the 366th Wing from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, mounted the largest single unit swap out in the five-year history of Operation Provide Comfort. The 366th Wing deployment brought a force equal to nearly half of all Air Force people assigned to OPC. They replaced the 23rd Fighter Squadron from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, along with the 492nd and 493rd Fighter Squadrons from RAF Lakenheath, England.
In late October 1996, the wing's senior leadership also announced a new name for the 366th Wing. Henceforth, it would be known as the "Air Expeditionary Wing" while deployed in keeping with an Air Force decision to stand up a "battle lab" at Mountain Home to refine the new concept. The wing would soon begin working out the most efficient procedures for moving an airpower expeditionary force to pre-selected locations around the world. The Air Expeditionary Force Battlelab (AEFB) activated by paper only on 1 April 1997, stood up at MHAFB on 22 Oct 1997.
While all these changes in the wing's composition were going on, the Gunfighters met numerous operational challenges. They have supported numerous deployments in the United States and around the world from the time of composite wing implementation. Only the highlights of this hectic pace are described here. Twice, in 1993 and again in 1995, the wing served as the lead unit for Bright Star, a large combined exercise held in Egypt. In July 1995, the wing also verified its combat capability in the largest operational readiness inspection in Air Force history. The Gunfighters deployed a composite strike force to Cold Bay, Canada, and proved they could deliver effective composite airpower. Then in 1996, the wing deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey, in support of Operation Provide Comfort.
In November 1997 the 366th Air Expeditionary Wing, nicknamed the Gunfighters, accomplished a series of firsts while deployed to Bahrain in support of Operation Southern Watch. It was the first time an Operational Readiness Inspection was completed in theater during a real-world contingency; the first time bombers, fighters and tankers from the same wing deployed to a location in support of a contingency; and the first time the B-1B Lancers from the 34th Bomb Squadron have bedded down with the wing in a deployed location. Conducting an ORI during a real-world contingency came as an ACC initiative to lower operational tempo in a unit.
The 366th deployed twice to Shaikh Isa AB, Bahrain, to support Operation Southern Watch in 1997 and 1998. These Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) deployments showed that the 366th Wing could employ and sustain its composite force while conducting the mission. Gunfighters returned on a second rotation relieving the unit who had replaced them after the wing's first visit to Bahrain. This historical first set the pace and made way for operational advancements. The 366th Wing then helped develop the way the Air Force will fly and fight in the next century through its participation as the lead AEF unit during Expeditionary Force Experiment 98. This CSAF experiment combined actual flights and combat simulations to create realistic war fighting environments. It aimed to rapidly mature initiatives that integrated air and space competency while applying decisive air and space power, thus dramatically improving command and control.
The 14 Sep 1998 announcement by CSAF Michael Ryan that the whole Air Force will reorganize into an 'Aerospace Expeditionary Force' came as no to surprise to Gunfighters. Consequently, the 366th Wing ('Air Expeditionary Wing' (AEW), when deployed) is and has been leading the way as the model from which other wings will be built. The wing also participated in Operation Desert Thunder in 1998.
In early 1999, the wing's three fighter squadrons flew combat missions over southern Iraq, with the 391st dropping more bombs than any other unit since the end of Desert Storm. From April-June 1999, the 22 ARS supported Operation Allied Force, the NATO air campaign against Serbia. During this period, the squadron refueled 600 aircraft and off-loaded over 7 million pounds of fuel. The 726th Air Control Squadron also supported Kosovo operations from May-July 1999. They were the first American unit to deploy to Romania in 53 years. In September 1999, the Gunfighters participated in JEFX 99, the latest in a series of exercises focused on testing emerging command and control technologies for deployed air expeditionary forces. Immediately following JEFX 99, the wing hosted Red Flag 00-1.1, the first red flag exercise in history not conducted at Nellis AFB, Nevada. Flown completely at night, the exercise combined traditional composite strike aircraft packages with low-observable F-117s and B-2s in a simulated interdiction campaign.
Following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 and the resultant initiation of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, the 366th Wing once again got the call. While the 34th Bomb Squadron deployed to Diego Garcia as the B-1 component of the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing, the wing sent a Base Operations Support package to Al Udeid AB, Qatar to transform the bare base into a fully operational airfield for large-scale combat operations.In October 2001, the 391st FS deployed to the Arabian Peninsula, while the 389th FS went to Al Udeid in November. Meanwhile, the 22 ARS, 390th FS, and 726th ACS supported Operation Noble Eagle protecting the skies of the Northwestern United States. The TDC Team displayed an exceptional performance at all levels in Support of Noble Eagle. In January 2007, the 391st FS deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan as the first F-15E Strike Eagle unit to patrol the skies over that country during Operation Enduring Freedom.
During the air campaign against Afghanistan that began on 7 October 2001, the 366th Wing's deployed crews flew nearly 1,000 sorties and dropped a total of 7.6 million pounds of bombs against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets—the most out of any unit participating in the operation.
Text sources: The 366 Wing History Office ; Air Force Historical Research Agency; WIKIA - MILITARY on the WIKI
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