HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – During the first two weeks of November, two of the 388th Fighter Wing’s F-35A Lightning II squadrons employed live weapons in combat training during simultaneous exercises here and at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
Airmen from the 4th Fighter Squadron, including Reservists from the 419th FW, deployed 12 F-35s to Tyndall AFB for an air-to-air weapons evaluation (Combat Archer), and a large force integrated combat exercise (Checkered Flag). At the same time, the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill participated in an air-to-ground weapons evaluation (Combat Hammer) on the Utah Test and Training Range.
At Tyndall, the joint Combat Archer evaluation and Checkered Flag exercise was a valuable experience for the 4th FS, which demonstrated the ability to deploy, operate and integrate with a much larger team.
During Combat Archer, the 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Fighter Generation Squadron were able to evaluate “cradle to grave” weapons employment to great success, said Lt. Col. Joshua Arki, 4th FS commander. The team built, loaded and fired a number of air-to-air missiles, a combination of AIM-120 and AIM-9s.
“The F-35 is still relatively new operationally speaking,” said Capt. Taylor Absher, F-35A pilot and 4th FS project officer for the deployment. “This weapon system evaluation allows us to give the Combat Air Force the most current data points on weapons employment, while letting our younger maintainers and pilots experience what it’s like loading and firing live missiles off the jet for the first time.”
During Checkered Flag, the large force air-to-air exercise, Hill’s F-35s integrated with a variety of joint-service aircraft, including F-22s, F-16s, F-15Es, F-15Cs and F/A-18s. In total, the exercise incorporated almost 80 aircraft and over 1,000 people from 15 separate units across the United States into tactical combat training. A many as 76 aircraft may participate in a single 90-minute scenario. In total, the exercise included nearly 500 sorties and 12 aerial events.
“We flew integrated missions ranging from basic fighter maneuvers and air combat maneuvering to full-up defensive counter-air and offensive counter-air with a variety of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft,” Arki said. “The overall increase in air dominance for America is incalculable, and the hard work and dedication of our Total Force Airmen during the exercise were foundational to this achievement.”
While the 4th was at Tyndall, the 34th Fighter Squadron and 34th Fighter Generation Squadron was participating in the air-to-ground weapons exercise, Combat Hammer, at Hill Air Force Base. Airmen employed several different guided weapons, GBU-12, GBU-31, GBU-39, GBU-49, as well as the F-35’s internal 25-mm cannon.
“This weapons system evaluation is crucial training for our maintainers to build and load weapons and generate sorties, and for our pilots to employ live munitions with the desired effect in a simulated contested environment,” said Capt. Buck Horn, F-35 pilot and 34th FS project officer for Combat Hammer.
Combat Hammer, also known as "WSEP West" is conducted by 86th FWS at Hill, which is the single DOD agency charged with conducting predictive battle damage analysis of precision guided air-to-ground munitions using operational weapons, aircraft, maintenance personnel and aircrew.
Separate from Combat Hammer, the squadron also integrated with visiting F-16s in training over the Utah Test and Training Range.