By Paul Holcomb, 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 08, 2017
An F-35 Lightning II aircraft assigned to Hill Air Force Base takes off from the base, May 22, 2017. (Todd Cromar/U.S. Air Force)
Airman 1st Class Joshua Rossi, 649th Munitions Squadron, checks the alignment on a GBU-12 bomb, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Aug. 3, 2017. The 500-pound bomb will be dropped at the Utah Test and Training Range during the Weapons System Evaluation Program Aug. 7-18. WSEP tests and validates the performance of crews, pilots, and their technology while deploying precision-guided munitions. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
Airmen assigned to the 388th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight place a GBU-31 bomb onto a munitions trailer at Hill Air Force Base, Aug. 1. The 2,000-pound bomb will be dropped at the Utah Test and Training Range by a Hill AFB F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron during August’s Weapons System Evaluation Program. WSEP consists of two parts: Combat Hammer is an air-to-ground weapons evaluation while Combat Archer is an air-to-air weapons evaluation. The F-35As are participating in WSEP for the first time as they move toward Full Warfighting Capability. (Paul Holcomb/U.S. Air Force)
Staff Sgt. Joshua Feekes, 388th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight, stencils build codes onto GBU-31 bombs at Hill Air Force Base, Aug. 1. The 2,000-pound bombs will be dropped at the Utah Test and Training Range by Hill AFB’s F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron during August’s Weapons System Evaluation Program. WSEP consists of two parts: Combat Hammer is an air-to-ground weapons evaluation while Combat Archer is an air-to-air weapons evaluation. The F-35As are participating in WSEP for the first time as they move toward Full Warfighting Capability. (Paul Holcomb/U.S. Air Force)
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – The 53rd Wing brings its Weapons System Evaluation Program here and to the Utah Test and Training Range for fighter and bomber aircraft weapons evaluations.
The evaluations, known as a WSEP, consist of two parts: Combat Hammer and Combat Archer. The evaluation exercises test and validate the performance of crews, pilots, and their technology while deploying precision-guided munitions.
The goal of Combat Hammer is to evaluate the effectiveness, maintainability, suitability, and accuracy of precision guided air-to-ground munitions. Combat Archer evaluates operational Department of Defense and partner nations’ total air-to-air weapons system actions in live-fire, combat representative environments to improve Combat Air Force training and readiness as well as weapons effectiveness.
The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron and Det. 1, a Hill tenant unit, conducts Combat Hammer, while the 83rd FWS from Tyndall AFB, Florida, hosts Combat Archer. Both squadrons are 53rd Wing geographically separated units.
First operational evaluations for F-35A
WSEP is critical to the F-35 program as the fighter jet moves toward full warfighting capability.
"This initial Combat Hammer WSEP evaluation is an important milestone in the F-35 path to FOC,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Smith, 86th FWS commander. “Our Combat Hammer team looks forward to working closely with our Team Hill partners, the 388th FW, Lockheed Martin, and the UTTR to enable success for this first time event for the F-35. We also look forward to many more F-35 WSEPs in the future and will continue to build on the foundation set during this exercise."
During WSEP, F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB will prove their readiness to effectively deliver munitions in tests conducted at the UTTR.
“Combat Hammer/Archer evaluations provide operators and their weapons systems the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to employ munitions we'll be expected to employ in combat,” said Col. Jason Rueschhoff, 388th Operations Group commander.
At full maturity, the multi-role F-35 will bring more lethality, survivability, and flexibility to combatant commanders than any other fighter platform.
“Post WSEP execution, Global Combatant Commanders will have an increased confidence in the F-35A's employment capabilities and that, combined with the technological advancement the aircraft represents, will likely raise the demand signal for the platform and its deterrent capabilities across the combatant commands,” said Rueschhoff.
Besides the Hill AFB F-35As, F-15E Strike Eagles from Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina; B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota; and B-52 Stratfortresses from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, will participate in Combat Hammer. Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons from Kelly Field, Texas, will participate along with the F-35As in Combat Archer.
Munitions builds underway
Ammo Airmen here spent the first week of August building munitions for evaluation testing.
The 388th Maintenance Squadron Munitions Flight built over 50 GBU-31 and GBU-12 bombs for employment by Hill AFB’s F-35As during this WSEP exercise.
The fact that operational F-35As are participating in WSEP for the first time is not lost on the 388th MXS Munitions Flight.
“Our Airmen are definitely aware that what they’re doing for this WSEP evaluation is going to directly impact the Air Force and the F-35,” said Tech. Sgt. Theopolis Austin, a munitions crew chief assigned to the 388th MXS Munitions Flight, “so we’re highly excited to be involved and to get our munitions out there and onto the jets.”
While the evaluation exercises are critical to readiness and provide valuable information to Air Force leadership, 388th MXS Munitions Flight Airmen are well prepared.
“Our build operations are actually no different,” said Austin, talking about the difference between building munitions for day-to-day operations and for WSEP. “As far as we’re concerned, this is regular everyday business.”