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Strike Eagle Pilots Not Surprised by Hussein's Actions

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SEYMOUR JOHNSON — F-15-E Strike Eagle pilots from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base who routinely patrol the no-fly zone in Northern Iraq say they are determined to protect the area from Saddam Hussein.

While there are no F-15-E Strike Eagles currently in Iraq, a group will return to the no-fly zone area in March.

Many airman say that with Saddam Hussein being so unpredictable again, they don't know what to expect when they return to Northern Iraq.

In spite of massive American air power, Iraq is balking once again at the UN's no-fly zone. On Monday, Iraqi ground troops opened fire on American war planes, and on Tuesday, Hussein vowed to violate the no-fly zone, regardless of rules set by the United Nations.

Pilots who just returned from patrol in the no-fly zone of Northern Iraq say they are not surprised by Hussein's latest actions.

"We usually know when Saddam is planning on pulling some type of incident like that," said Capt. Ralph Bentley of the 336th Fighter Squadron. "Our [intelligence] is very thorough over there, so it really did not surprise me, and the results also did not surprise me."

The F-15-Es will throw tremendous fire power on as many as 50 planes across the border each day.

While Seymour's F-15-Es have always handled the Iraqi theater successfully, the Air Force is working to improve its Strike Eagle again.

In a matter of months, the planes could be equipped to detect surface-to-air missiles from much greater distances than they do now.

"There are some smart engineers and researchers that give us some equipment on the airplane that gives us incredible capability so we're glad to see the improvements," said Capt. Kevin Fesler of the 336th Fighter Squadron.

Until recently, those improvements were considered impractical and too expensive. But such improvements in technology also means fewer casualties.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
Brian Bowman, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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