Fighter Jet on Alert? – Did the California National Guard Have an F-15C Readied for Domestic Use?

An odd story published in the LA Times claimed that 4 California National Guard sources stated that Guardsmen were told to put an F-15C fighter jet on alert for a “Defense Support of Civil Authorities mission” in March, 2020. The way they were told was also odd, not in formal writing, but through text messages or oral instruction. The Guard sources were concerned that the jet was to be used to buzz protesters or quell civil unrest. But an F-15C? The fighter jet costs around $25,000 per flight. (Military.Com)

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The mission type normally is used to deploy troops and equipment in support of infrastructure damage after hurricanes or earthquakes, or help police agencies respond to violent protests. Was the fighter jet on alert to be used to buzz protests against the Covid lockdowns in California? Apparently that is a tactic sometimes used in foreign nations to disperse the enemy in combat zones.

“It would have been a completely illegal order that disgraced the military,” one source told the Times. “It could look like we’re threatening civilians.”

“That’s something that would happen in the Soviet Union,” said a second of the Times’ sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from superiors. “Our military is used to combat foreign aggressors.”

…”It’s a war machine, not something you use for suppressing civil unrest,” a third source told the Times.

Fox/LA Times

The communications reviewed by the LA Times also contained references to having the fighter jet on alert for post-election violence. California National Guard spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Shiroma, denied the claims, saying that we “don’t use our planes to frighten or intimidate civilians.” The question is raised, however, who issued the order or were the sources making it all up?

Who in the Guard chain of command would have had the authority to order the jet dispatched on a civilian mission was not clear in the directives, the sources said. They added that the jet designated for the task was not armed with missiles and its cannon was not loaded.

In addition to the pre-election message, The Times reviewed two written communications circulated among Guard members that referred to the order to ready the jet for a domestic mission known as Defense Support of Civil Authorities. That category of mission includes the deployment of troops and equipment for nonmilitary emergencies, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as to help police agencies respond to violent protests.

The first communication, circulated shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, posed the question of whether the Guard was preparing to use the F-15C as a “show of force,” which the sources said was a reference to flying it low over crowds.

A second communication in July contained a discussion of using the F-15C to survey infrastructure damage, but it also refers to the possibility of the jet being used as a “show of presences.” The sources said that phrase also refers to using aircraft to intimidate people on the ground.

LtCol Shimona told the LA Times that sometimes the F-15C is deployed to earthquake zones because it can get there faster than other aircraft. But one retired National Guard pilot disagreed.

Dan Woodside, a retired Guard pilot who has flown the F-15C, said that on the few occasions the fighter jet was deployed to assess earthquake damage, it proved nearly useless because it isn’t designed for that purpose. The jet has a camera-equipped targeting pod to zero in on enemy aircraft in flight, but F-15C pilots are not trained to use it for air-to-ground surveillance, Woodside said.

The sources said the targeting pod was ordered removed from the F-15C for the domestic mission after the Guard was criticized for deploying the RC-26B spy plane over El Dorado Hills.

Woodside, who held the rank of major, said he “absolutely would have disobeyed” any order to use an F-15C to buzz a civilian crowd during unrest.

“The decibel level alone from an F-15C demonstrating a show of force can break windows, set off car alarms and cause more fear than shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” he said.

Major Dan Woodside, a retired Guard pilot 

Who sent the messages? Why would they risk harming US citizens by trying to intimidate a crowd of protesters? It’s a conundrum at this point.


Featured photo: the F-15C “Eagle” at Fresno, California’s Air National Guard 144th fighter wing. (Air National Guard photo)

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