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15TH SW HISTORY

A brief history of 15th Strike Wing.

        

        The 15th Strike Wing was organized and activated as a Provisional Unit on 26 November 1973, at Sangley Point, Cavite City, with a mission statement: To conduct counter-insurgency and special warfare operations. The appointed Acting Wing Commander then was COL EMERITO P SURIO PAF (GSC) and a complement of three (3) officers and ten (10) airmen.

Initially, the Wing had six (6) T-34 Mentors and six (6) T-28 Trojans, mostly from 100th Training Wing and 5th Fighter Wing. Then, additional personnel were reassigned to the Wing such that, by the end of the year, the Unit had 27 officers and 288 airmen, who became the nucleus of 15th Strike Wing.

On 01 July 1974, the 18th Maintenance and Supply Squadron (forerunner of 461st Field Maintenance Squadron), was activated and manned. A month later, 16th Attack Squadron was organized in anticipation of the delivery of T-28D aircraft from Vietnam. Following this, the 17th Attack Squadron was activated on 01 October 1974 and was projected to man the SIAI-FRAT-260 Warriors (SF-260W). The first batch of the Italian-made, locally assembled SF-260W Marchetti aircraft, arrived in late February 1975.

On 16 October 1974, the 302nd Special Operations Squadron of HPAF was placed under the Command and Control of the 15th Strike Wing Commander. Two days later, the Wing received the first batch of T-28D aircraft, fresh from the Vietnam War. Trained under CAPT HAMILTON of the US Air Force and eventually checked out as instructor pilots, COL BARROGA, LTC PITPITAN JR, LTC SAMSON, LTC DAVID and MAJ BILLONES made a smooth transition to the T-28D, bringing forth a new generation of PAF pilots – THE ATTACK PILOTS. Conceptualized mainly to fight insurgency in the country, this new breed of pilots has come to specialize in Close Air Support and Air Interdiction against the enemies of the state.

On 18 February 1975, the Wing deployed four (4) T-28D aircraft to Edwin Andrews Air Base, Zamboanga City, in support of SOWESCOM operations. Barely three days later, had the first air strike in 15th Strike Wing’s history taken place in Kandiis, Province of Basilan.
On 17 March 1975, three (3) SF-260W aircraft were deployed at the 15th SW Advance Command Post at Francisco Bangoy Airport, Davao City. On 15 April of the same year, the SF-260 Marchettis wreaked havoc to rebel encampments in Balabagan, Sapakan and Reina Regente, in Central Mindanao.
With the acquisition of additional T-28D aircraft from Udorn AFB in Thailand, another Unit, the 25th Attack Squadron, was activated on 29 March 1976. It was given the task to provide 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. On 13 April of that year, three (3) aircraft of the 15th Strike Wing landed at Puerto Princesa. Following this, they also made a historic landing at Kalayaan.

In May 1976, the Albatross was transferred to 15th Strike Wing from 530th Air Base Group and was employed as a search and rescue aircraft, thus giving birth to 27th Search, Rescue and Reconnaissance Squadron. Armed with rockets, the Grumann HU-16 Albatross was utilized as Forward Air Controller and SAR aircraft with limited close air support capability. The Wing also had the C-47 Gooney Bird, which was used to ferry personnel, supplies and equipment to ensure rapid deployment effectiveness of 15th Strike Wing.

Towards the end of the 70s, the oil prices doubled, thus resulting to decrease in flying operations. A crippling shortage of spares was felt in 1979, and a drastic reorganization move was put in place to increase the operational rate of the assigned aircraft. A provisional Unit was then established to consolidate all support units. This was the 20th Combat Support Group.
For the 15th Strike Wing, the 80s also ushered in major changes. In anticipation of the AUH-76s arrival, the 20th Air Commando Squadron was activated on 01 October 1983. In 1984, PRESIDENT FERDINAND MARCOS facilitated the acquisition of Sikorsky AUH-76 helicopters, which was configured as a platform for rockets and machine guns. Two (2) S-70A Blackhawks also arrived together with the three (3) AUH-76. Two (2) of the AUH-76 helicopters were configured as rescue helicopters, thus placing the 505th Air Rescue Squadron of the 205th Helicopter Wing under 15th Strike Wing control, on April 1, 1984.  

Preceding the arrival of the AUH-76 was the transfer of the SF-260s, during the early part of 1983, to 100th Training Wing. Consequently, the 25th Attack Squadron was unmanned on 01 October 1983.

With the political tension that pervaded the country after the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., economic instability spelled budgetary cuts for the government. Maintenance cost increased while some pilots opted to leave the service to seek for “greener pastures”. Because of this drain in personnel and equipment, the 17th Attack Squadron was unmanned on 01 August 1985.

The finest hour of the 15th Strike Wing came during the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution. The Wing Commander, then COL 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. This eventually led to the end of the 20-year Marcos Regime. Following this, Corazon Aquino, assumed as 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. 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 constitution. 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. At the height of the tension, at the time when rebel forces had control over TV 13 and GHQ building, two T-28Ds took off from Sangley Point and proceeded to Balara Relay Station and released deadly warnings at the vicinity of the area occupied by rebel soldiers. Then, later in the afternoon, the Tora-Toras struck with precision identified targets at Camp Aguinaldo. These events eventually led the rebels to raise the white flag, thus ending the coup attempt.

In 1989, 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 the Sangley Air 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 December 1st, rebel pilots were already set to launch air strikes. In the first seven days of December, T-28Ds piloted by rebel pilots strafed Malacañan Palace grounds; they were in control of the skies.

With Sangley Air Base under their control, the rebels had the upper hand. The government, on the other hand, realized the implications of this situation; so, 5th Fighter Wing was tasked to conduct persuasion flights. By the following morning, a flight of F-5 Freedom Fighters led by MAJOR DANILO S ATIENZA, performed a persuasion flight over Sangley Air Base. But because the rebels were firm on holding their ground, the F-5 pilots were later directed to retake Sangley at all costs. And so air strikes were conducted inflicting heavy damage on aircraft and facilities controlled by the enemy. Unfortunately, Major Atienza crashed after flames from the explosion of a fuel depot engulfed his F-5, killing him in the process. More than two years later, on 05 May 1992, the airfield of Sangley was renamed Major Danilo S Atienza Airfield pursuant to Republic Act 7429 in recognition of his gallantry and intrepidity.

The most drastic change in Sangley was the merging of the 240th Composite Wing and the 15th Strike Wing, in 1987. The 240th Composite Wing was unmanned on January 16, 1987; subsequently, on February 24, 1987, Sangley Air Base was recognized as a single-wing base. From then on, the 15th Strike Wing functioned both as a tactical unit and as a base keeper of Sangley Air Base. Due to the increase in manpower and equipment that was brought upon by the merging of the two (2) Units, the 505th Air Rescue Squadron was transferred to the 205th Helicopter Wing on July 16, 1987.

Changes occurred in 15th Strike Wing even towards the end of the decade. On 15 July 1990, 17th Air Commando Squadron and the 25th Air Commando Training Squadron were re-manned. The 601st Liaison Squadron, the only Squadron from the 240th CW to have survived the merger with 15th SW, was unmanned on the same date.

The right mix of aircraft was realized in the early 90s. It began when the AFP approved the order for the delivery of MD-520MG Defender attack helicopters in April 1990. Equipped with .50-caliber machine guns and seven-tube rocket launchers, the MGs, as they are fondly called, 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 02 May 1990. On 01 October 1990, the first four MGs landed at Sangley Air Base. On 16 February 1991, the MGs performed their first air strike in support of government troops operating against NPA rebels in Abra.

It is also noteworthy that in the year 1991, the AUH-76 helicopters were reconfigured as platform for bombs when only a few T-28s were on full mission capable status thereby patching up the need for air assets that can perform air combat missions. 

Eventually, through the Foreign Military Sales, the US Government agreed to sell twenty-four (24) OV-10A Broncos to the AFP. On 12 November 1991, a simple turnover ceremony was held at Villamor Air Base for the first five (5) Broncos.  

The OV-10A Broncos were assigned to 16th Attack Squadron, while the remaining T-28s were transferred to 17th Attack Squadron. The T-28s were retired from the service as more and more OV-10s arrived. Subsequently, the 17th Attack Squadron was also given the task to fly and maintain the OV-10s. Also, on 11 February 1992, the Wing’s two BN Islanders were turned over to the 220th Airlift Wing.

By the last quarter of 1994, the last five (5) MD-520MGs arrived at Sangley Air Base, completing the 32-aircraft order of the Philippine Government. The five (5) MGs were then assigned to the 20th Assault Squadron (renamed from 20th Air Commando Squadron), in preparation for the Unit’s re-fleeting with an all-MG fleet.  

In April 1996, the remaining S-76s were transferred to the 505th Search and Rescue Squadron of the 205th Tactical Operations Wing. Since then, the 20th AS has been maintaining an all-MG fleet. The 18th and 20th Assault Squadrons were later on renamed 18th and 20th Attack Squadrons, respectively, pursuant to GO #163, dated 28 April 2003.

Another significant development in 15th Strike Wing was the re-manning of the 17th Attack Squadron on 16 July 2001, but this time with a fleet of reconfigured SF-260TPs. 

To further reinforce the “fighting power” of the Philippine Air Force in the south, the 25th Attack Squadron known as the “LOBOS” was re-manned into 25th Composite Attack Squadron on 19 July 2004. This Unit based at 3rd Tactical Operations Wing, Edwin Andrews Air Base, Zamboanga City is envisioned to manage, operate and maintain the Wing’s assets in Mindanao.

 In 2015, series of organizational restructuring has been implemented in accordance with the Flight Plan of this Unit. Two (2) new Squadrons were activated to cater to the emerging needs of the organization. In order to standardize the air and ground training of this Unit, 19th Composite Tactical Training Squadron was activated. The 597th Communications Electronics and Information System Squadron was also activated on the same year to improve the Command and Control of 15th Strike Wing.

Another breakthrough in the course of the Unit’s history unfolded when new platform arrived at Sangley- the AW109AH. On 17 August 2015, the initial batch of AW109-AH composed of two (2) helicopters were blessed at the Villamor Air Base while the remaining six AW109-AH arrived on 05 December 2015. All of which were assigned under the command and control of the 18th Attack Squadron. Preceding the arrival of the AW-109AH was the transfer of the MGs to 20th Attack Squadron on 01 September 2014.

The arrival of these new air assets multiplied the force that has long been provided by 15th Strike Wing. Less than a year after its arrival, these night capable assets were deployed in the South. And on April 14, 2016, the AW-109AH performed its first night mission breaking the longtime barrier in the execution of night CAS.

On the dawn of April 11, 2017, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) attempted their first operation in Visayas particularly in Bohol. The terrorists’ kidnapping attempt became a disaster for the ASGs when joint forces of the AFP launched attacks against the group. The PAF deployed the Wing’s SF-260TPs and AW-109AHs that conducted day and night air strikes which resulted to the death of the ASG terrorists.

On May 22, 2017, an urban war was staged by ISIS-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City. The AFP immediately launched surgical air strikes to minimize ground troop casualties. Day and night close air support was conducted by MD-520MGs, AW-109AHs, SF-260TPs and OV-10 Broncos that led to the killing of the HVTs and successful liberation of the Islamic City on 17 October 2017. This has been recorded as the most number of air strikes performed in a single campaign.

To support national development, the air assets of the 15th Strike Wing conducted a 24-hour air cover during the four-day ASEAN Summit in 2017. Leaders of the different nations including President Trump of the US went to Manila and attended the summit which was concluded safely and successfully on November 17, 2017.

On February 6, 2018, the 15th Strike Wing activated the 462nd Rotary-Wing Field Maintenance Squadron in line with its Flight Plan. The 462nd RWFS will perform field maintenance on all rotary aircraft of the Wing. The 462nd Supply Squadron was re-designated to 591st Supply Squadron and was placed under the command and control of 590th Air Base Group. The 460th Maintenance and Supply Group was also re-designated to 460th Aircraft Maintenance Group and the 461st Field Maintenance Squadron was re-organized to 461st Fixed-Wing Field Maintenance Squadron.

Through the years, the 15th Strike Wing has gradually evolved into a modern, capable, and relevant Unit in response to the changing needs of our times while giving the best service to the Filipino people throughout the archipelago.