EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group conducted the largest maritime Weapons System Evaluation Program April 7-15, 2022.
This iteration included air-to-air and air-to-ground and electronic warfare operations.
The 74th Fighter Squadron and the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron’s A-10s participated in the combat exercises, and were evaluated on maverick and laser guided weapon capabilities against maritime targets.
“This is an extremely rare opportunity, as live air to surface weapons ranges with real maritime targets are uncommon,” said Maj. Randall Ott, 59th TES program manager. "Maritime targets are expected in several tactical environments, and being able to prosecute many of them quickly is important to several Combatant Commanders.”
During the COMBAT HAMMER (air-to-ground) portion of WSEP the 1st Special Operations Wing’s U-28 aircraft assisted with target acquisition. The 34th Bomb Squadron’s B-1 Lancers also participated in the COMBAT HAMMER portion. The 12th and 3rd Special Operations Squadron MQ-9 Reapers were used with the intent to deploy with minimal equipment and personnel to execute operations.
All of these aircraft and mission sets used Eglin’s many water ranges, airspace and environments to execute the evaluations. The ranges are the responsibility of the 96th Test Wing’s Range Group. The program management of the event and the airspace belong to the 96th Operations Support Squadron.
The planning begins months ahead of the event to begin coordinating for types and number of aircraft and weapons, target requirements, airspace etc. Coordinators work with range staff to reserve the necessary marine equipment, including the gulf range armament test vessel. It is a barge deployed to the Gulf of Mexico test area that houses the equipment and 24 people required to operate it. Mobile microwave, communications, telemetry and camera footage are run from the floating test center.
An important portion of the 96th OSS’s coordination for this giant exercise is approvals and funding to execute specific requirements. For this exercise, the base safety office and the 96 TW had to approve releasing live munitions into the Gulf of Mexico. Once approvals are granted and the mission is funding, the scheduling begins.
This includes range times, aircraft flights, marine operations, weather and much more. Once the aircraft arrive, the 96th OSS support them throughout the entire mission. They handle bed down, ground equipment, radios, office space, and air traffic control before, during and after the exercise.
During the exercise, the 96th Range Control Squadron takes over. The squadron manages the central control facility where the entire mission is controlled. CCF personnel ensure communications between test directors, controllers, air traffic control and aircrew. They also ensure mission video and data sent to the CCF is displayed for real time viewing and data collection.
The 96th TW’s efforts are executed by military, civilians and heavily by contracted employees with more than 12,000 hours of support during this maritime WSEP.