86th FWS drops 'biggest' hammer on Eglin

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Samuel King Jr.
  • 53d Wing Public Affairs
Northwest Florida has been attacked! Particularly, Eglin Air Force Base's western range, Bravo 70 - and it was all carefully supervised by ... (gasp) the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron.

Yes, the 86th FWS hosted the largest ever Combat Hammer Weapon System Evaluation Program here last week, dropping more than 40 precision-guided weapons to include Laser-Guided Bombs, Joint-Direct Attack Munitions and AGM-65s Mavericks.

"We wanted to maximize our time - more "bang" for our buck," said Maj. Chris Bridges, 86th FWS. "A typical WSEP here is with only one unit, but we felt we could accomplish more."

The squadron evaluated the accuracy of weapons systems from an A-10 unit, the 354th Fighter Squadron from Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., as well as B-52s from the 20th Bomb Squadron from Barksdale AFB, La. Also participating in its annual WSEP were our neighbors to the north - Canada. The 409th Tactical Fighter Squadron from Cold Lake AB, Canada, brought nine CF-18s to the "Hammer."

The Hammer is about gathering air-to-ground weapons system data - all aspects are evaluated from the cradle to the grave, according to Maj. Jim Barnes, 86th FWS.

"We analyze everything, including the man, the machine and the aircraft," Major Barnes said. "All of those parameters, along with the data received after the weapon has done its job, goes into the model we use to determine effectiveness."

Canadian units use the WSEP Hammer and Archer program each year.

This year, during the Canadian's Hammer, the 86th FWS tested 12 LGBs. The 86th's job is to gather, review and evaluate the data from those drops as well as the data from the other units participating.

"The Canadians are getting to do things here they've never done before, and we are honored to host and help them in any way we can," said Lt. Col. Dave Lujan, 86th commander.

Most of the Canadian pilots have very little experience dropping the weapons used during Combat Hammer.

"The Canadian Air Force has only six active targeting pods in their inventory, so those who come to WSEP have very little experience," said Major Bridges. "For most of them, it is their first opportunity to employ a laser guided bomb. That type of experience is invaluable to their pilots and maintenance crews alike."

Capt. Ian DeCarlo launched his first GBU-10 at this year's WSEP.

"It's a huge deal to be able to fire one of these bombs for the first time," said the captain. "A simulation doesn't compare to actual combat training."

During their sorties, the Canadian pilots faced adversary aircraft of F-16s and F-15s provided by the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron in an air-threat scenario, before heading to the range for a ground-threat to drop their bombs. There is also a chase aircraft that goes along to monitor the scenario.

"This process is repeated among all the units at WSEP over the three-day event," said Major Barnes. Once at the range, cameras and other devices record mission information from the time the weapon is dropped to the time it impacts.

Precise measurements of the impact are taken later, but the 86th FWS takes the recorded information from the day's sorties and uses it to provide initial feedback to the Hammer players. The entire analysis and evaluation process takes three months before a final report is issued.

The goal of the 86th FWS and WSEP is 80 percent confidence in all weapons dropped. The test numbers are tracked over five years to get that confidence interval.

At the end of the duty day, on Dec. 5, the large scale air-to-ground attack ended. Information from all of the drops had been gathered and the groups met with the 86th to outbrief and go through lessons learned.

From the data obtained, the 86th reported the Canadians scored well based on their quality of equipment. The 86th also offered some advice to help increase the Canadian's accuracy and target success rate, such as targeting for the wind.

Lt. Col. Todd Balfe, commander of the 409th "Cougars," was grateful to the hosts. "This mission was a success," he said. "We have a lot of lessons and points to take home and examine. We have some proficiency issues to work through, and data to back it up. As always though, it's about getting our pilots the experience they need."

After huge week within the Combat Hammer squadron, Colonel Lujan reflected on the impact of the week and what it means to the 86th FWS.

"I believe this program benefits the Combat Air Force as a whole, it trains aircrews to be lethal in combat, and it trains maintenance on building, loading and launching PGM's," he said. "The Air Force as a whole, benefits from the data because it affects the way we go to war."