February 6, 2008 (by SSgt. Samuel King Jr.) - The 13th FS "Panthers" roared into Florida last week to participate in two 53d Wing Weapon System Evaluation Programs (WSEP) commonly known as Combat Archer and Combat Hammer.
Crew Chief SSgt. Pablo Jimenez talks with Capt. Eric Freienmuth before his flight on February 5th at Eglin AFB. The captain's mission is part of the 53d Wing's WSEP commonly known as Combat Hammer. During the mission he will perform a scenario and fire a AGM-65 which will be recorded and analyzed by the 86th FWS. The data received will show if the weapon is firing properly and how the mission could be improved.
The 13th FS
from Misawa Air Base, Japan, was the first F-16 group to ever complete back-to-back WSEPs held consecutively at Tyndall Air Force Base and Eglin. At the same time, F-15s from the 494th Fighter Squadron from Lakenheath Air Base, England also participated in a combined evaluation.
"This a unique opportunity for us," said Lt. Col. Steve Williams, 13th FS commander. "Outside of combat, we can't get this type of training anywhere else, and combining the two programs saves our unit a lot of time and money."
The colonel added that although there are testing ranges in Japan, none allow live firing or have the telemetry analysis that a WSEP provides.
The WSEP program, run by the 53d Weapons Evaluation Group, is used to evaluate the effectiveness and suitability of combat air force weapon systems. The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron oversees the air-to-ground program at Eglin while the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron manages the air-to-air at Tyndall. The evaluations are accomplished during tactical deliveries of fighter, bomber and unmanned aircraft system precision guided munitions, on realistic targets with air-to-air and surface-to-air defenses.
"All of the information gathered from the program allows us to find deficiencies or glitches in the weaponry, so it can be improved to 100 percent when used in the field," said Lt. Col. Dean Ostovich, 86th FWS commander.
The weapon's entire "life cycle" is evaluated and scrutinized during the WSEP.
"This evaluation is a cradle-to-the-grave process," said Colonel Ostovich. "We are looking at everything from weapon loading and placement all the way down to impact on the target."
The program also provides many training scenarios pilots have yet to experience such as firing live rounds from the cannon or releasing their first bomb. First Lt. Jon Kuntz got to experience that at this WSEP.
"It doesn't really hit you until you come back and are able to see that 'Wow, I fired that,'" said the lieutenant. "Your training just takes over when you're up there in the moment. It is very beneficial though to be able to view it afterward. It provides you with a new level of understanding about the weapons we use."
Most of the 13th's weapons loaders are used to the live ammo. Nearly all of the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron attending the WSEP deployed with the 13th FS to Iraq this summer where they worked with live ammo everyday.
"It does enter your mind that these are live rounds," said Airman 1st Class Philip Smith, 13th AMXS. "The bands on the weapons are different from inert to live, so you can see them coming when they are being rolled out. You know you have to be on top of your game."
The 13th came ready for the "game" with 12 aircraft and 155 people for their two evaluations. The WSEP allowed them to fire AIM-65s and a variety of Guided Bomb Units. They were also able to fire the F-16's 20mm cannon at a moving target, a remote-controlled tank towing an armed vehicle, located at the Eglin range.
"It's as close as you get to actual combat," said Colonel Williams.
The 83rd and the 86th perform more than 35 WSEPs a year and create unique opportunities for those participating in them through live weapon firing to detailed accounts of their use of the weaponry, but what Colonel Ostovich hopes they leave with is assurance.
"What most people walk away with is confidence in what they are doing, and the technology and weapons systems they are asked to use," said the colonel.
The 86th FWS's hammer drops again Feb. 8-15 when the 75th Fighter Squadron's A-10C Thunderbolts from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., invade Eglin for their WSEP.