53rd Wing WSEP incorporates NucWSEP, enhances readiness for real world operations
By 1st Lt. Lindsey Heflin, 53rd Wing
/ Published September 09, 2021
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- The 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group hosted air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons system evaluations at Hill Air Force Base Aug. 16-27. The Weapons System Evaluation Program tests maintenance, aircrew, and weapons Airmen by evaluating the reliability and maintainability of aircraft weapons systems.
A unique component of this most recent WSEP West iteration was the incorporation of a Nuclear Evaluation Mission involving aircrew and maintenance professionals from the 48th Fighter Wing, Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, and F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft from the 391st Fighter Squadron, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. The 48th FW built and loaded inert B-61 gravity bombs, and released two of the munitions at the Tonopah Test Range. The successful releases allowed more test data points to be collected for further weapon and tactics techniques and procedures development.
This two-week training event also included B-52H Stratofortress jets from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Aircrew from the 20th and 96th Bomb Squadrons launched Miniature Air-Launched Decoys in addition to Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Cluster Bomb Units as part of the WSEP demonstration.
“The MALD is a weapon we don’t get to release unsimulated very often,” said Capt. Bradley Arnold, 96th BS flight commander and Combat Hammer mission lead. “These weapons are normally restricted for combat, but by employing them during exercises like WSEP we can track the results and produce reliable up-to-date weapons metrics that are essential in equipping the warfighter and staying ahead of the fight.”
During the course of WSEP, F-16s from the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy, shot three Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, which provided a rare opportunity for a combat unit to gain vital experience with planning and executing a live employment.
“The vast majority of aircrew members will never get a chance to employ a JASSM unless they are called into actual combat,” said Maj. Anthony Nejman, 86th Fighter Wing F-35 lead evaluator. “For those who got to shoot the weapon, that experience will be valuable if it ever comes to a real combat scenario.”
Finally, F-35s assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke AFB, Arizona, participated in WSEP West for the first time, and together the 63rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit and 63rd FS loaded and expended seven AIM-120s, three AIM-9Xs, 22 GBU-12s, six GBU-31s, and fired 1,488 rounds of 25mm ammunition. In total, the 63rd flew 140 sorties while providing vital training for maintainers and ammo personnel as they built and loaded live munitions in a simulated environment. Additionally, the event allowed ten first time shooters and instructor pilots to successfully employ weapons systems to their maximum capabilities.
Most notable for the 63rd was the employment of the Lightning Technician Program, which aims at addressing the multi-functional airmen requirement for future operations with near-peer adversaries. Luke AFB is the first base across the Air Force to implement LTP across all the aircraft maintenance units, creating the benchmark across the Air Force.
“LTP’s concept is simple, one maintainer should know a multitude of aircraft maintenance tasks, typically known to multiple airmen in different specialties,” said Maj. Danny Lacore, 56th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “Traditionally many maintenance tasks rely on outside agencies to execute, but by consolidating career fields we gain mission resiliency and a higher level of readiness.”
The next WSEP will occur Sept. 13-24 at Tyndall AFB, Florida. Known as WSEP East, this will include units from the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and Combat Air Force.