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79th ‘Tigers’ take on Checkered Flag 24-2, WSEP

May 29, 2024 (by SrA Steven Cardo) - The U.S. Air Force 79th Fighter and Fighter Generation Squadron ‘Tigers’ took part in Checkered Flag 24-2 and the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP) at Tyndall Air Force Base from May 9-22, 2024. These exercises aimed to enhance air combat readiness alongside 5th-generation aircraft and validate weapons systems and tactics in realistic, large-scale training scenarios.

USAF F-16C block 50 #00-0224 assigned to the 79th FS taxis on the flight line during Checkered Flag 24-2 and the Weapons System Evaluation Program at Tyndall AFB, May 15, 2024. [USAF photo by SrA Steven Cardo]

Checkered Flag is a large force exercise involving over 60 aircraft from across the joint branches, designed to prepare units for immediate response force missions by improving air combat tactics, aerial refuelling operations and overall mission effectiveness. Concurrently, WSEP provides aircrew with live-fire training and evaluates weapons systems and tactics in simulated combat scenarios. The Tigers’ participation aimed to enhance Airman confidence in live-fire air-to-air operations while integrating 4th and 5th-generation fighter aircraft in a large-scale training environment.

"The 79th participates by bringing the 4th generation [fighter aircraft] aspect into the exercise… alongside joint partner groups and other Air Force units," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Joshua Epley, 79th Fighter Squadron pilot. "Usually at Shaw, we practice amongst ourselves, F-16 versus F-16. This prepares us for a combat environment where multiple [airframes] can be brought together… We’ve had great experiences from how we operate at a different installation and how we integrate with other aircraft."

WSEP provides ground crews and pilots with air-to-air missile and 20 mm gun live-fire training, focusing on evaluating and validating weapons systems and tactics in simulated combat scenarios. The exercise supplies crucial data to system engineers, allowing them to improve aircraft and munition guidance systems for the Department of Defense.

"We fire live missiles for two reasons: to gather data on how the weapons systems will work and to allow our pilots and loaders to work with live munitions, some for the first time in their careers," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Talbert, 79th FGS weapons expeditor. "Day to day, we train with [combat arms training and maintenance] missiles which have all the same technology but don’t have the warhead. This exercise gives our people the opportunity to handle the real thing and provides much more realistic training."

Planning for the exercises began in early February and required coordination from multiple units within the 20th Fighter Wing to ensure successful deployment.

"Ensuring our cargo, personnel and aircraft arrived on time involved crucial assistance from the 20th Logistic Readiness Squadron and various [unit deployment managers]," said Master Sgt. Zachary Snook, 79th FGS production superintendent. "Pulling off a successful Checkered Flag/WSEP [temporary duty] couldn’t have been done without… the 79th operations and maintenance project officers. Their leadership and coordination were instrumental in ensuring the smooth execution of all logistics and operations."

Lt. Col. Alexander Prevendar, 79th FS commander, praised the efforts and morale of the squadron. "When the [79th Fighter and Fighter Generation Squadrons] deploy, we go as a mission generation force element. Having the opportunity to integrate here and get to know everyone on a personal level has been phenomenal," said Prevendar. "Morale is super high… everyone wants to get the job done and be the best that they can be. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone for furthering ‘Tiger Nation.’ Tiger Tiger!"

The 79th Fighter and Fighter Generation Squadron ‘Tigers’ generated 111 sorties and flew over 230 hours to integrate 4th and 5th generation fighter aircraft and test their ability to provide and sustain enemy anti-air suppression in a large-scale, realistic training environment. The units remain steadfast in seeking high-end, advanced training opportunities to enhance mobility, deployment, & employment capabilities to ensure the delivery of decisive combat airpower anytime, anywhere.

Courtesy of 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Additional images:

USAF F-16C block 50 #91-0369 assigned to the 79th FS takes off from the runway at Tyndall AFB, during Checkered Flag 24-2 and WSEP, May 10, 2024. Tyndall AFB hosted several units from the U.S. Air Force and joint branches for CF 24-2 and WSEP. [USAF photo by SrA Steven Cardo]
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