Combat Hammer drops bombs in Utah

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Andrew Leonhard
  • 53d Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron called Utah home for the month of May during their semiannual Combat Hammer exercise held at the Utah Test and Training Range at Hill Air Force Base. 

F-15s from the 391st Fighter Squadron from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and F-16s from the 55th Fighter Squadron at Shaw AFB, S.C., participated in the Weapons System Evaluation Program, hosted by the 86th FWS. 

The WSEP program, run by the 53d Weapons Evaluation Group, is used to evaluate the effectiveness and suitability of combat air force weapon systems. 

"Since our first day, we have been training to go to war; that's what we do," said Staff Sgt. James Deczynski, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Shaw AFB. "Something like this helps prepare us."

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. The 86th, whose primary focus is air-to-ground evaluations are centrally located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., but has a detachment at Hill that provides it access to the Utah bomb range.

The UTTR is located in Utah's West Desert, 80 miles outside of Salt Lake City. It is the largest block of authorized restricted airspace in the continental U.S. 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. More than 60 percent of all Combat Hammer operations are performed at the UTTR. 

"The UTTR is a national treasure," said Lt. Col. Dean Ostovich, 86th FWS commander. "There is absolutely nothing like it." 

As commander of Combat Hammer, the colonel has seen the growth of weapons testing and expects more in the future. 

According to the squadron commander, the Air Force had 50 weapon systems to test and maintain in 1986. It has 13 different aircraft and 98 weapon system combinations today, with 16 more up and coming. 

All these weapon systems are tested and evaluated in the WSEP, during realistic combat scenarios including live weapons loading and firing. Evaluators conduct intense inspections of the aircrews' and maintenance personnel's performance, and review telemetry data collected on weapons employment to help improve aircrew tactics, maintenance procedures and munitions reliability.

"The coolest part about Combat Hammer is we get to see things get blown up, but that's only a small part," said 2nd Lt. Audrey Stock, weapons and tactics analyst with the 86th FWS. "Afterward, we're analyzing the weapon, viewing any anomalies and determining how effective each weapon type is." 

These exercises ensure both Airmen and weapons are thoroughly evaluated and combat-ready. 

"What we do here prepares us for what we will see in real-world situations," Colonel Ostovich said. "Most of these guys out here will deploy in the very near future, and there is no better way to prepare than this."