Oregon Guardsmen fly, shoot live missiles at WSEP exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Angela Walz
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"Fly, fight, win" is exactly what a group of 142nd Fighter Wing F-15 Eagle pilots, maintainers, weapons loaders and support personnel did during a two-week weapons systems evaluation program (WSEP) known as Combat Archer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, from Jan. 25 through Feb 5.

As part of the exercise, Airmen flew the jets, loaded and shot live missiles and subsequently assessed the entire process. The WSEP evaluates weapons systems in their entirety, including aircraft, weapon delivery system, the weapon itself, aircrew, technical data, and maintenance. The intention is to gauge operational effectiveness, to verify weapons system performance, determine reliability, evaluate capability and limitations, identify deficiencies, and pursue corrective actions. It gives crews valuable practice with actual weapons.

"As a combat unit, we have to verify and validate every step of the process and every person involved in a true missile shoot," said Col. Paul T. Fitzgerald, 142nd Fighter Wing Commander, who participated during the first week of the exercise.

"Combat Archer provides the opportunity for people who, for the most part, train and practice in a simulated environment, where not all systems involved in an actual missile shoot are engaged. Here, we operate in a live construct where the entire system is 100-percent engaged. This is an invaluable experience because the subsequent evaluations validate whether a weapon performs according to how its specifications say it should," Col. Fitzgerald said.

One reason this type of training is so hard to come by is that it requires a very large area, free from both ground and air traffic, to safely conduct the training. Combat Archer is uniquely set up to afford this necessary training.

Along with Combat Archer, the Oregon unit also conducted Combat Shield, an exercise which validates the performance of the radar warning receiver (RWR) avionics system in the aircraft. According to Senior Master Sgt. Steve Crawford, an avionics systems technician at the Portland Air Guard unit, the RWR system helps alert pilots to adversaries in their vicinity through a complex system of antennas and radar signals.

"This is a valuable experience for us as we're able to exercise systems and processes we most often only simulate for training purposes," said Capt. Amy Newkirk, 142nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Command Manager.  "It's a very busy TDY [temporary duty assignment] for all parties involved, but the kind of trip that maintainers most enjoy - the real deal turn-and-burn."

But aerial missiles and radar avionics weren't the only activities evaluated during this TDY to Tyndall. On the maintenance side, every aircraft launch and missile load was also evaluated by a Tyndall-based weapons systems evaluation program team member.

Tech. Sgt. Tim Bradshaw, WSEP evaluator, said incoming units receive an in-brief not only in regards to local safety policies and procedures, but also about program expectations.
"We are able to track their maintenance and flying activities through a variety of systems so we have situational awareness at all times as to when evaluation opportunities are available," Bradshaw said.

Chief Master Sgt. Dan Conner, 142nd Maintenance Group Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, said evaluators provided feedback daily through cross-talks and meetings while a formal outbrief summarized the results.

Overall however, all agreed on one result of Combat Archer - the level of confidence it instills in the critical combat systems and the people who maintain and operate them.

"Combat Archer brings home the confidence about the  launch systems, knowing what is supposed to happen does happen, and on that we can rely," Conner said.