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Combat Hammer exercise concludes at Hill AFB

An F-35A takes off during a combat exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, May 1, 2019. The active duty 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing, along with F-16 units from Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and Kunsan Air Base, Korea, conducted an integrated combat exercise where maintainers were tasked to continually provide ready aircraft and pilots took off in waves to simulate a large force engagement with enemy aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw

An F-35A takes off during a combat exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – Air Force units here completed a two-week exercise known as Combat Hammer, part of the Air Force’s Weapons System Evaluation Program. The exercise began May 6.

Four F-35s from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings participated, making it the fourth WSEP for the Air Force’s newest fighter. Pilots from the 34th Fighter Squadron dropped eight GBU-49s. While the Air Force doesn’t immediately release official results of weapons evaluations, pilots said the GBU-49 is a very capable and effective weapon. The training for ammo, weapons, maintenance, and aircrew is all valuable in determining combat effectiveness.

During the exercise, a wide variety of aircraft traveled to the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s west desert to drop munitions in realistic combat scenarios. The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, deployed here from Eglin AFB, Florida, collects and analyzes data on how these precision weapons perform and their suitability for use in combat.

The team also reviews in-flight footage and data recorders from the flights to see whether the pilots dropped weapons within the correct parameters. The aircraft are dropping highly advanced “smart” weapons that also provide data inputs and indicators that can be reviewed after they are dropped to give evaluators an inside look at their performance.

A total of 49 aircraft from across the Air Force participated, including A-10s from Moody AFB, Georgia; B-1s from Dyess AFB, Texas; MQ-9s from Creech AFB, Nevada; F-16s from Kunsan AFB, Korea; F-16s from Shaw AFB, South Carolina; and B-52s from Minot AFB, North Dakota. The 75th Air Base Wing, UTTR, 388th FW, and 419th FW supported the visiting squadrons in a variety of ways, from facilities to airspace to flying integration.

The Secretary of the Air Force recently approved a move of the 86th FWS to Hill AFB where it will regularly conduct WSEP activities. The unit is slated to be up and running next year.

The 419th and 388th FWs are the Air Force’s first operational combat-capable F-35 units, having received the first jets in October 2015. The active duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components. By the end of this year, Hill AFB will be home to 78 F-35s.