Jonathan Shiroma, a spokesman for California National Guard chief David Baldwin, insisted, however, that “no F-15s were contemplated” in response to a possible civil unrest in the state last year, and that only C-130J and HC-130J military transport jets were under consideration.
In March 2020, an air branch of the California National Guard received an order to put an F-15C fighter jet on alert status for “a possible domestic mission”, the Los Angeles Times has cited several unnamed National Guard sources as saying.
The sources claimed that the order came as National Guard members were awaiting instructions from the Sacramento headquarters to tackle possible civil unrest that might arise from the outbreak of COVID-19.
According to the insiders, the service members could have been tasked with helping state and local authorities “respond to disturbances triggered by resistance to stay-at-home [coronavirus lockdown] rules or panic over empty store shelves”.
The sources also argued that even though the order did not clarify the F-15C’s mission, National Guard forces understood the directive could have meant the supersonic combat plane “could be deployed to terrify and disperse protesters by flying low over them at window-rattling speeds, with its afterburners streaming columns of flames”.
The insiders added that using the F-15C to frighten potential protesters in California “would have been an inappropriate use of the military against US civilians”.
They argued that the fighter jet was also placed on an alert status amid California protests over the 24 May 2020 murder of African-American man George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota and to any possible civil unrest sparked by the 3 November US presidential election.
“It would have been a completely illegal order that disgraced the military. It could look like we’re threatening civilians”, one of the sources asserted.
They asserted that the directives were sent orally or in text messages rather than as formal written orders, something that further sparked their concerns that the warplane would be used inappropriately.
Although the order never came in written form, the very fact that commanders considered using the F-15C over civilian crowds frightened National Guard members, according to the sources.
“It’s a war machine, not something you use for [suppressing] civil unrest”, they emphasised.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma, a spokesman for California National Guard chief Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, for his part, denied that the F-15C was placed on alert status for a potential response to civil disturbances, stressing that the National Guard does not use its planes “to frighten or intimidate civilians”.
Shiroma spoke as Dan Woodside, a retired National Guard pilot who has flown the F-15C, was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying that he “absolutely would have disobeyed” any order to use the plane to fly over a civilian crowd during unrest.
Woodside explained that “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”.