TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Watching fighter aircraft zoom across the sky often conjures thoughts of strength, air superiority and sheer supremacy. For others, images of pilots, maintainers and the flightline provide that source of inspiration.
What many may not realize is the importance of what happens behind-the-scenes and beneath those flying fighter jets.
The 53rd Wing's 82nd Aerial Target Squadron, often referred to as “Team Target,” is responsible for ensuring the safe and effective testing of various weapon systems through the use of QF-16 aerial targets, full-scale aerial targets capable of both manned and unmanned flight and BQM-167A subscale aerial targets.
In accordance with U.S. law, Title 10, Section 2366 of the U.S. Code, missile systems must go through survivability and lethality testing prior to the system moving to full-scale production.
“The 82nd ATRS supports the testing and fielding of Air Force weapons and the evaluation of the fielded weapons performance,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Serrill, 82nd ATRS commander. “The 82nd ATRS supported Checkered Flag 18-1 with manned QF-16s loaded with advanced electronic attack pods.”
Checkered Flag was hosted here from Nov. 6-17. It is a large-scale, aerial total-force exercise focusing on the seamless integration of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft while enabling the participating active duty units to train alongside their Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard colleagues. Checkered Flag and the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program generally run simultaneously, WSEP focuses on the air-to-air training and live-fire weapons testing for the participating units.
“During Checkered Flag, Team Target conducted waterway channel clearing with utility boats and missile retrievers before the launch and recovery of 16 BQM-167A,” Serrill added.
Unique to the 82nd ATRS, the squadron operates the Air Force’s only two DeHavilland E-9A “Widget” airborne surveillance and telemetry relay aircraft. The widget is used in conjunction with the squadron’s three 120-foot drone recovery vessels and two smaller patrol vessels to ensure the waterways surrounding Tyndall are clear of civilian vessels and aircraft during live missile launches and other military activity in order to mitigate potential risks.
“Prior to fighters or targets taking to the sky, the ‘shoot track’ was determined using the E-9A with its sea surveillance radar sending boat position information to the WEG safety team,” Serrill said.
The 82nd ATRS is a geographically separated squadron from the 53rd WG, headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base. It is here that the 82nd ATRS maintains the Department of Defense’s only full-scale aerial target program.
Team Target has a unique mission of which it performs its duties day in and day out, always behind the scenes, unbeknownst to most. Maintaining air superiority, now and in the future, requires investment in both technology and training. The 82nd ATRS’s investment in that technology will help future Air Force generations maintain air superiority.