ATLANTIC CITY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, New Jersey – Airmen from the 177th Fighter Wing traveled to Tyndall Air Force Base to participate in the Air Force’s air-to-air Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP), also known as Combat Archer training, January 12 -27, 2023.
F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots, maintainers, and support staff launched and recovered 150 sorties during the combat training, which tests and evaluates multiple areas of operations, from weapons loading to missile employment and aerial gunnery. This training ensures operational readiness and success in current and future missions.
“Participating in WESP is essential and unique in that it provides an environment where our operations and maintenance squadrons work closely together and experience scenarios they can anticipate in combat,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Long, commander of the 119th Fighter Squadron. “It’s critical; it takes a village. Everyone sees the pilot as the most visible in the kill chain process, but in fact, it takes hundreds of people to affect the missions. The hundreds of hours leading up to that one moment are often not seen by most people; they just see the pilot.”
According to Long, one of the training goals is to acclimate the pilot to weapons deployment in combat, something that very few pilots experience more than once in their career. One of the aspects that makes this mission unique is that pilots can employ live weapons, preparing them for that feeling of the missile or bomb coming off the jet.
“We train and simulate all the time, but the human factor is completely different,” said Long. “It’s making sure that maintenance can load the weapons correctly, the aircraft are operating correctly, the missile station communicates with the station, and the jets can fire the weapon correctly.”
During the training, the 177th FW had the opportunity to operate in a joint environment with other units within the Department of Defense, collaborating in a simulated combat environment.
“It is wonderful to work in a joint environment, and it’s good to see how others do things,” said Lt. Col. Christopher J. Kelly, commanding officer of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 214. “When we go to combat for real, we are going to be working in a joint environment together, so we are going to know each other’s intricacies so that we can be more lethal in our tactics.”