WESTFIELD, MA. --- Over 250 Airmen and 9 F-15 Eagles from the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard, were on time and on target while deployed to the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP), at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
“The WSEP does two things,” said Col. Jeffrey Rivers, Commander of the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron, Weapons Systems Evaluation Program. “It feeds Combat Air Force’s (CAF) training and readiness. We get air crew experience for the first time subsequent to the events, sounds, sights, smells, and noise of a real missile coming off the jet in a realistic scenario they would find normally in training but now it is with real weapons and real targets to shoot at.”
The 104th Fighter Wing flew 212 sorties out of 221 sorties and successfully deployed 17 missiles while at WSEP. Leaving only nine sorties not completed due to weather. The unit flew 293.1 hours and received a mission capable rate of 83%.
“The 104th Fighter Wing is a highly-experienced air crew in an airframe designed for air to air," said Rivers. "You guys train for air to air so you are a premier platform that comes through here and provides lots of good data not only for us for the F15C Commands but for all the platforms for the Air Force that don’t actually focus on air to air as the C model does. Because of that compared to all the other units in the Air Force C models typically do above average work when they come here and you guys are no exception.”
As a part of WSEP, the aircraft are loaded and shoot live missiles. The WSEP evaluates aircraft, weapons delivery systems, the weapons, weapons loaders, aircrew, technical data, and maintenance. The purpose is to gauge operational effectiveness, to verify weapons systems performance, determine reliability, and evaluate capability.
“The other side is the training weapons effectiveness and suitability,” said Rivers. What was happening in Vietnam is they were not prepared and our weapons and systems were not working the way they were advertised to work when we procured them.”
Rivers explained “Inherently when these guys are taking these shots we take out the warheads of the weapons and put in telemetry kits and receive the real-time data. That data feeds our ability to assess if the weapons are meeting requirements specs. If it does, then great, but if it doesn’t, then it gives us an avenue to go to the program system offices and submit a deficiency report. The program offices take that info and create new requirements for challenging the industry to identify why they are not meeting the specifications required by the Air Force.”
Those things are fixed and once they are it goes back through developmental and operational tests and then back to us to recertify the fielding systems are working. To reiterate WSEP has fielded weapons and fielded aircraft with CAF rated pilots shooting not necessarily scripted scenarios but more combat realistic scenarios.
Rivers added “We have everyone from brand new Second Lieutenants all the way up to 06 Colonels. So we get the whole picture of everyone who could go to combat coming through here to shoot operationally. Data feeds into our flagship product AFTTP3-1 shotkill. It is a training bible for everyone in the CAF that uses this information and validates their training with real weapons. The whole air to air system they get to evaluate and get experience while they are here. There is not a whole lot of places you can shoot the gun, at least not at an aerial target."
The 104th FW fired 14,661 bullets at WSEP, totaling 100 percent of the guns on the aircraft firing every time.
"Our deployment to Tyndall really had two different but complimentary themes,” said Col. William Bladen, 104th Fighter Wing, Operations Group Commander. “The WSEP portion focused on exercising and testing the kill chain from the missile build all the way through its destruction of a target. It takes several miracles for a missile to complete an intercept. If anyone of them fails, the kill chain is broken. WSEP tested our people and our machines and both performed exceptionally well.”
Everything from maintenance, to air crew maintenance, ops, uploading, downloading, arming, and using their equipment appropriately, properly in accordance with technical orders to load and execute a live fire on an air to air weapon mission was evaluated.
“The ops piece of that is their ability to put themselves in a position in accordance with their aircraft limits and the tech order manuals, and our tactics manuals to take valid shots or shots that are in accordance with what we brief them at the 83rd to get valid data to feed the training product we produce each year or every other year,” said Rivers.
Rivers added “The maintenance piece is also their ability to generate aircraft per our tasking just like you would in combat. Combat tasking problem for them is a little more aggressive than their home station schedules.”
On the ramp at Tyndall Air Force Base alongside 104th Fighter Wing Eagles, were Canadian F-18s, F-35s, F-16s, and F-22s.
“The second piece of the deployment was large force exercises and 4-ship training which is the core fighting force in the Eagle,” said Bladen. “With several other fighter airframes on the Gulf Coast, we were able to put together daily outnumbered scenarios that we cannot produce up here at Barnes. The last day of the trip we flew 4 F-15s and 4 F-22s against 14 "red air" fighters. For our training, we allowed the red air to regenerate after being killed by a blue air fighter. The final results of that mission: Blue Air killed 41 enemy aircraft and lost just one. While pretty phenomenal, perfection is our goal so the debrief focused on how we could have had a 41-0 ratio."
Bladen added “One of the other accomplishments was certifying our Active Duty pilot, Capt "Bull" Chitwood, as an F-15 instructor pilot. We've got a lot of experience in the fighter squadron and we've been able to leverage that to make Bull a great instructor. His syllabus began at Kadena AB last summer and finally concluded at Tyndall. This is typical as becoming an F-15 instructor pilot is one of the most challenging qualifications a pilot can attain. When he goes back to the Active Duty in a few years, he'll take that experience with him which helps the Total Force."