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34th FS deployment experience proves valuable during recent weapons evaluation

a photo of a weapons load crew

Airman 1st Class Hunter McCanch, 388th Fighter Wing, checks weapons during an exercise called Combat Hammer, August 12, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The 34th Fighter Squadron, along with Reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, recently completed the Weapons System Evaluation Program West (WESP), employing a variety of munitions with the F-35A Lighting II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

a photo of a weapons load crew

Senior Airman Nicholas Zurinsky and Staff Sgt. Shaka Battle, both 388th Fighter Wing, participate in Combat Hammer exercise, August 12, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The 34th Fighter Squadron, along with Reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, recently completed the Weapons System Evaluation Program West (WESP), employing a variety of munitions with the F-35A Lighting II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

a photo of a weapons load crew

Staff Sgt. Shaka Battle and Senior Airman Irvin Padilla, both 388th Fighter Wing, participate in Combat Hammer exercise, August 12, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The 34th Fighter Squadron, along with Reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, recently completed the Weapons System Evaluation Program West (WESP), employing a variety of munitions with the F-35A Lighting II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

a photo of a weapons load crew

Staff Sgt. Shaka Battle and Senior Airman Nicholas Zurinsky, both 388th Fighter Wing, participate in Combat Hammer exercise, August 12, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The 34th Fighter Squadron, along with Reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, recently completed the Weapons System Evaluation Program West (WESP), employing a variety of munitions with the F-35A Lighting II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --

The 34th Fighter Squadron, along with Reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, recently completed a weapons system evaluation here, employing a variety of munitions with the F-35A Lighting II.

Weapons System Evaluation Program West, also known as Combat Hammer, is run by the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron. The exercise, which took place in August, is designed to give commanders a clear view of the effectiveness of weapons employed in combat – from sustainability, suitability against certain targets, accuracy, and the proficiency of maintainers and pilots.

During the exercise, maintainers built and loaded GBU-31 Direct Attack Munitions, GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs and GBU-12 Laser Guided bombs. Pilots employed these live and inert weapons against a variety of targets on the Utah Test and Training Range while evaluators from the 86th FWS compiled the data.

“Combat Hammer provides our maintainers – builders and loaders – training in weapon delivery and weapon loading that we don’t see during normal training sorties. We may only see them during combat,” said Capt. Susan McLeod, officer in charge of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “It is important to train and test the weapon delivery and weapon loading process to make it as safe, efficient, and seamless as possible for the operator in the cockpit.”

The 34th Fighter Squadron returned in June from an 8-month combat deployment in the Middle East, and their experience paid dividends during the exercise.

“WSEP personnel were incredibly impressed with the loading proficiency and speed of our Airmen who recently returned from deployment,” McLeod said. “Overall, it was a great reminder of the work we did downrange, but also gave our more experienced Airmen the opportunity to mentor and guide our younger Airmen who haven’t deployed or loaded before.”

The evaluation also included F-35As from Nellis AFB, Nev.; B-1s from Ellsworth AFB, S.D.; and MQ-9s from Creech AFB, Nev. Not all of the aircraft were based at Hill for the exercise, some made round-trip sorties to the UTTR from their home stations.  

“The timing and complexity of this exercise was extremely beneficial to our post-deployment training and reconstitution,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “I am very proud of our operations and maintenance teams for their level of execution throughout the week.”

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