July 5, 2007 (by SrA Stephen Collier) - Pilots assigned to the 35th Fighter Squadron completed a week and a half of dropping live ordnance July 3 on a Japanese bombing range in an effort to refine their war-time skills.
The squadron, known as the 'Pantons,' participated in the weapons drop using the small, uninhabited Japanese island of Toroshima where the F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots practiced using Guided Bomb Unit-10s, GBU-24s, air-to-surface guided missiles, or AGM-65
'Mavericks' and Mark-82 and 84 'dummy bombs.' The Panton pilots also trained using the F-16's M-61A1 20 millimeter cannon to strafe stationary targets.
"This training gives us a chance to put live weapons on the jet and go out and practice for what we train for," said 1st Lt. Nathan Froh, 35th FS
fighter pilot and live-weapons drop coordinator. "It gives us the opportunity to see how it really works."
Northeast Asia's ongoing monsoon season hampered a completely-effective training environment, as some missions were cancelled due to weather. Those missions that were successful saw pilots, together with their wingmen, experiencing the feeling of a 500 to 1,000 pound bomb dropping from the wing of their F-16, destroying simulated targets below.
"This is a big deal for any training unit to actually experience and gain confidence in the weapon system they use," said Lieutenant Froh. "You also gain an appreciation for the support mechanisms, like how the bomb goes from the crate to actually seeing it on the aircraft. Then you see the weapon in action. As we continue to conduct drops, we gain more confidence with the weapons. After all, these are the actual weapons we would use in a real-world situation."
Pilots assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing "Wolf Pack" are making use of the Japanese range as the wing's primary targeting facility, located in Korea, is closed.
The Panton's use of live weapons differs from previous training opportunities for Wolf Pack pilots. In August 2006, the wing conducted the first live missile shoot on the peninsula, where pilots from the 80th Fighter Squadron fired live, heat-seeking AIM-9
Because pilots assigned to 7th Air Force are on standby to defend the Republic of Korea from hostilities, it's difficult for them to attend formal Air Force air-to-air weapons system evaluation programs, or "WSEP." Commonly known as Combat Archer, pilots from throughout the continental United States and beyond receive live-firing weapons training through the use of AIM-7, AIM-9 and AIM-120
missiles, engaging drones and modified QF-4 aircraft.
Commenting on how valuable training with live munitions is, Col. Ken "Viper" Rizer, 8th Operations Group commander, said the training increases Wolf Pack pilots' capability because dropping live munitions requires greater attention to detail.
"Since we are unable to drop certain live munitions in the Republic of Korea," Colonel Rizer said, "this training off the coast of Japan provides us the opportunity to practice dropping those live weapons. Dropping live weapons forces our pilots to deal with any number of unforeseen circumstances that can take place in flight, such as malfunctions, which all create for very realistic training."