53d Wing conducts largest air-to-ground WSEP in history

  • Published
  • By Capt. Carrie L. Kessler
  • 53d Wing Public Affairs
During Combat Hammer, the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron completed its largest air-to-ground Weapons System Evaluation Program in history Aug. 21.

According to the 86 FWS, 573 Airmen from 11 units across the Air Force supported almost 250 weapons employed at the Utah Test and Training Range at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for evaluation and continuous training. More munitions were employed during this one WSEP than during an entire year's worth of evaluations.

"The purpose (of Combat Hammer) is to evaluate precision and high technology weapons in a realistic scenario with realistic (equipment)," said Lt. Col. Dean Ostovich, 86 FWS commander. "It starts when the ammo troops open the crates and ends when we assess the effects against assigned targets."

The 86 FWS, whose primary focus is air-to-ground evaluations, are centrally located at Eglin AFB, Fla., under the 53d Wing but has a detachment at Hill that provides it access to the UTTR.

The UTTR is located 80 miles outside of Salt Lake City and is the largest block of authorized restricted airspace in the continental United States. The range occupies 2,675 miles of ground space and more than 19,000 miles of airspace, and is home to a variety of training and testing missions for the Air Force.

For one of the 11 units evaluated, WSEP provided first-time experiences for many of its pilots.

"We are a very, very young squadron and these guys did an amazing job," said Lt. Col. Neil Allen, 336th Fighter Squadron commander. "Five just became mission ready a week before leaving and (at Hill) they dropped seven different types of ordnance and also practiced air-to-ground strafe against a moving target."

The F-15 unit from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., participates regularly in WSEPs and values the benefits.

"For most of our guys, it was the first time they've seen a tactical range and the first time they dropped heavyweight live ordnance," said Colonel Allen. "(The evaluation) was a crucial part of our (Air and Space Expeditionary Force) training cycle and AEF deployment prep."

The August WSEP was the second time a GPS denial evaluation was conducted and executed with support from the 746th Test Squadron, Holloman AFB, N.M., and the Joint Navigation Warfare Center, Kirtland AFB, N.M. This was the first GPS denial evaluation for Unmanned Aerial Systems and A-10C aircraft.

This assessment was accomplished by looking at the contemporary environment to create a GPS denial scenario in which we can evaluate our current fielded capabilities, according to Colonel Ostovich. Evaluating GPS denial was critical for systems related to the Joint Direct Attack Munition, which has been used by the Air Force since 1999.

"We employed GPS aided munitions in a robust GPS jamming environment," said Colonel Allen. "It was really eye-opening for those running the range and to those trying to employ on it."

A number of other 53d Wing units also participated in the WSEP not only to be evaluated but to assist with the evaluation.

"We had to have aircraft instrumented to capture the data so we were able to leverage their capabilities and provide an opportunity for operational testing.

"There are also cost-savings and it's a way the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center and the 53d are able to provide unheard of efficiencies with respect to limited resources," said Colonel Ostovich.

"The combination of effort clearly demonstrated the seamless operations within the 53d wing," said Lt. Col. Sam Shaneyfelt, 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron commander. "We were able to capitalize on the 53th Weapons Evaluation Groups' assets and the unique capabilities on the range to prove we could hit multiple targets in a GPS jamming environment with precision."

The Hill WSEP also provided the 86 FWS an opportunity to evaluate high-time weapons or unused ordnance that has been in a deployed environment well above its designed requirement.

There was a higher than expected dud rate at a deployed location so we took this on as an evaluation under our WSEP charter, according to Colonel Ostovich. We were also asked by U.S. Air Forces Central to look at the anomaly and investigate the issue.

According the 86 FWS, the unit is currently processing data on the high-time weapon evaluation as well as the overall WSEP.

The next air-to-ground WSEP is scheduled for November at Eglin.