Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Peace Xenia IV

By Eric Hehs

Five new Fighting Falcons touched down for the first time at Araxos AB in Greece on 28 January 2010. The Block 52+ F-16s, painted in unique light blue and gray camouflage schemes, constitute the last of thirty F-16s the Hellenic Air Force is receiving as part of the Peace Xenia IV program.

This most recent Peace Xenia program, which covers the fourth purchase of F-16s by Greece, began in December 2005 when the Greek government signed an agreement for the delivery of thirty aircraft with an option for ten more. (The option for additional aircraft was not exercised.) The purchase consists of twenty single-seat F-16C models and ten two-seat F-16D models. All are powered by Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engines.

The new aircraft will populate two squadrons of 116 Combat Wing at Araxos—the 335 Tiger Squadron and a second squadron to be designated either 334 or 342. Both squadrons will be operational in 2010. A third squadron at Araxos, 336 Olympus Squadron, flies A-7E Corsairs. The A-7s are expected to remain in operation for at least two more years. Col. Kostas Vouzios, commander of 116 CW since June 2008, has overseen the transition to the new F-16s. “Araxos was not the high priority for our air force before the F-16s arrived,” he says. “Now it is. My job is to make sure the transition goes smoothly.”

Vouzios brings strong F-16 credentials to the task. Besides having more than 2,000 hours of flying time in the F-16, he was the former commander of 347 Squadron at Nea Anchialos AB, where he oversaw the HAF transition to Block 50 F-16s during the Peace Xenia II program. Vouzios’ experience at Nea Anchialos was further supplemented by his responsibilities in the planning and operations at HAF Tactical Air Force command during the Peace Xenia III program, which involved establishing the first Block 52+ F-16 squadrons for the HAF at Souda Bay AB on Crete.

“Our air force has accumulated a lot of experience through the years with several versions of the F-16,” Vouzios says. “We are using what we have learned to benefit the Peace Xenia IV program here at Araxos.”

Modern Facilities

Araxos is about a thirty-minute drive west along the northern Peloponnese coast from Patra, which is Greece’s third-largest city. Construction of the base began around 1958, and it became operational in 1962. The 336, the first squadron operating out of the base, began with the F-84F and later switched to the F-104G. The 335 was established on the base in 1977, also flying F-104Gs. The F-104s were replaced with A-7Es beginning in 1992. The 335 began receiving Block 52+ F-16s in May 2009.

Araxos was chosen as the newest F-16 base for both strategic and available space reasons. Another factor taken into account was the additional space that will open up when the A-7s retire from the HAF fleet. A sign just inside the front gate offers the first hint that new facilities are accompanying the new aircraft. The sign shows the Lockheed Martin logo.

Aside from producing the aircraft and providing technical assistance, the company functions as a general contractor for many of the infrastructure improvements associated with the F-16 as part of an offset program. The new facilities include two squadron hangars, two squadron operations buildings, and an engine maintenance building. The two squadrons also share a f light simulator building.

“We have the best aircraft facilities in our air force. They are above our expectations,” Vouzios says. “The new hangars are designed to be maintenance friendly, which they are. A new mentality comes with the new facilities.” The new mentality at Araxos can be viewed as a shift into the digital age. “Our most important improvement is a fiber optic network,” Vouzios continues. “We hope to have a paperless operational system fully functioning by the end of 2010. The network will link all activities at the base—logistics, base operations, and maintenance. Even our security and ground-based air defense units will be attached to the network.”

335 Squadron

The 335 Squadron functions as an elemental node on that network. “As of November 2009, we have only two network terminals—one at our operations desk and another in the maintenance squadron—so we use the radio a lot and do a lot on paper,” notes Lt. Col. Evangelos Tzikas, commander of 335 Squadron. “But that situation will change quickly in the coming months as we incorporate more terminals in the squadron.” Half of the thirty F-16s and forty-five or so F-16 pilots at Araxos are assigned to 335 Squadron....

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