A California Air National Guard F-15C Strike Eagle was placed on alert status for a mysterious ‘domestic mission’ last year, drawing concern from pilots that they would be asked to buzz crowds of protesters, according to a new report.
The fighter jet at the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno that was put on alert days before the November election was not armed with missiles and its 20-millimeter cannon was unloaded, according to the Los Angeles Times.
That led pilots to fear that the war machine would be used to intimidate protesters by flying low over crowds, spewing flames from its afterburners, sources told the paper.
‘That’s something that would happen in the Soviet Union,’ one Guard source told the Times. ‘Our military is used to combat foreign aggressors.’
A California Air National Guard F-15C Strike Eagle was placed on alert status for a mysterious ‘domestic mission’ last year, prompting concerns it would be used to intimidate protesters
Pilots feared they would be asked to fly crowds, spewing flames from its afterburners. Above, protesters march through downtown Los Angeles last June
Officials with the California Guard and Governor Gavin Newsome denied that plans were ever contemplated to use an F-15C to intimidate protesters.
‘We do not use our planes to frighten or intimidate civilians,’ Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma, a Guard spokesman, told the Times.
But documents reviewed by the newspaper revealed that the jet was placed on alert status during election week, and that officers also shared concerns in March 2020 and over the summer that the F-15C would be used to quell civil unrest amid the coronavirus pandemic and protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
The alert status orders reportedly came down verbally or though text messages, rather than official channels, further stoking officers’ fears over the nature of the mysterious ‘domestic mission’.
The week before the election, a lieutenant colonel sent a message to Guard members who maintain the F-15C, advising them that a jet must be ‘ready to take off within two hours’ starting the day before the election.
Anti-lockdown protests were also widespread in California, which had harsh restrictions
As early as last March, pilots expressed fears that plans were being contemplated to use the F-15C to quell unrest. Above, a Los Angeles supermarket is stripped bare in March 2020
The pilot and launch crew were required to be able to reach the base within 90 minutes of any order to deploy.
The message said ‘aircraft availability’ for a domestic mission would be ‘at a premium next week with the election. We may need to work on Saturday and maybe Sunday to ensure we have … aircraft availability’ for the potential mission.
The unusual order prompted alarm among Guard officers, and the then-commander of the 144th Wing, Col. Jeremiah Cruz, tried to quell the fears by sending an email saying ‘there is no expectation that the F-15C will be used in any way in support of civil unrest.’
He also instructed officers to keep him apprised of ‘any requests or upcoming requests’ from California Guard headquarters in Sacramento.
No such order to use the fighter jet against demonstrators ever came down, but even the possibility that such a contingency was being contemplated alarmed many officers.
The F-15C is a tactical fighter aircraft designed for air-to-air combat, armed with a 20mm M61A1 Vulcan Gatling cannon and equipped to carry a variety of missiles
‘It’s a war machine, not something you use for [suppressing] civil unrest,’ one source told the Times.
The F-15C is a tactical fighter aircraft designed for air-to-air combat, armed with a 20mm M61A1 Vulcan Gatling cannon and equipped to carry a variety of missiles and bombs.
A spokeswoman said that Newsom had never authorized the use of the F-15C to respond to civil unrest, and that the possibility of that type of mission for the jet ‘was never a consideration before the governor’s office.’
If it had been, the spokeswoman added, Newsom ‘would not have approved it.’
Last summer, the California National Guard spurred controversy by sending an RC-26B spy plane to monitor Black Lives Matter protests in the wealthy Sacramento suburb of El Dorado Hills.
The head of the California National Guard, Major General David S. Baldwin, lives in El Dorado Hills, but claimed at the time that it had ‘nothing to do with’ the spy plane’s deployment.