June 10, 2009 (by SSgt. Rachel Martinez) - On May 13 two F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots climbed into their jets and took to the skies over Northern Japan for a first of its kind training mission.
USAF F-16C block 50 #91-0346 from the 14th FS drops an inert GBU-38 on Draughon Range on May 13th, 2009. This was the first time a joint direct attack munition was used on the range. [USAF photo by 1st Lt. Ryan Cross]
The pilots dropped inert GBU-38s on Draughon Range. The drop was the first time joint direct attack munitions were employed on a range of its size and opened the door to new training opportunities for Misawa pilots.
"Previously, 35th Fighter Wing pilots were unable to drop precision-guided munitions in Japan," said Capt. James Cooke, 35th Fighter Wing weapons officer. "In order to meet training requirements pilots would have to drop all precision-guided munitions, including JDAMs
, at exercises. A significant overseas TDY was required."
Most pilots have requirements to drop two actual JDAMs per training cycle, according to Captain Cooke. Due to the size and boundary of Draughon Range, the closest range to Misawa Air Base, precision-guided weapons were not allowed.
The range was reassessed and certified in late 2008, using a new software program that evaluates weapon danger zones. With the weapon danger zone assessment and by modifying the pilot's attack approach, Captain Cooke attempted to certify Draughon Range for JDAM
"We ran the numbers, analyzed the results and determined the weapon footprint was suitable," said Captain Cooke, a native of Greensboro, N.C. "I flew some initial simulated attacks at the range to validate the new attack profiles."
With the go-ahead, Captain Cooke and Col. RC Craig, 35th Fighter Wing vice commander, dropped the first two GBU-38s on the range.
"Everything went perfect for both deliveries," Captain Cooke said. "The weapons performed as advertised, scoring direct hits on the target. It was nice for everything to go off as well as it did. This effort opens the door for future JDAM employment on Draughon Range."
With pilots able to employ the GBU-38 locally, they are better able to meet the training requirements set by the Ready Aircrew Program tasking message. The 35th FW can now drop approximately 98% of their requirements locally. The only weapons they can't drop locally are laser-guided bombs.
The drop not only created new opportunities for Misawa pilots, Captain Cooke said he expects it will expand opportunities Air Force-wide.
"This was the first time a JDAM was dropped on a range this size," said Captain Cooke. "Because we were able to do it, I think you'll start to see these deliveries happen at other bases in the states."
This new capability also provides training and unique opportunities for the Airmen in the munitions flight. As pilots begin to employ JDAMS locally, munitions Airmen will be called upon to build the weapons. A few lucky Airmen who built the GBU-38 were selected to watch the first employment on Draughon Range.
"We examined the target before and after, and took pictures of it," said Airman 1st Class Michael Eiland, 35th Maintenance Squadron munitions journeyman. "I didn't know what to expect. They dropped two GBU-38s, and they were probably within five inches of each other, and they dropped them from 13,000 feet going 450 knots. It was rewarding. We never get to see what we do get put into effect like that."
For Captain Cooke, the reward is more the outcome than the dropping of the weapon.
"The capability for actual JDAM employment on Draughon Range is an accomplishment," he said. "It's nice to be able to have that capability here, and it is certainly the opening of a great opportunity for Misawa pilots."