The life and death of WSEP missiles

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Tiffany Del Oso
  • 325 Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Tyndall Air Force Base is one of the select few locations in the U.S. Department of Defense where weapons system testing with live-fire missiles is a regular activity.

Tyndall’s prime access to the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (EGOMEX) provides aircraft of all shapes and sizes with an airspace large enough to safely test their weapons systems as well as their ground crews on the procedures of completing live-fire missions.

What makes this mission even more unique is Tyndall’s own 325th Munitions Squadron. Tucked away in the swampy backwoods of Tyndall’s airfield, the 325th MUNS receives, deconstructs, rebuilds and tests every missile used during large-scale exercises.

“Basically, we reconfigure the entire missile into a flying computer,” said Master Sgt. Jacob Ballou, 325th MUNS precision guided munitions section chief. “It will transmit back what the missile does so that engineers and program managers for each airframe can have a greater understanding of the capabilities each missile holds, and what they might be able to expect for future iterations and upcoming new missile programs.”

The 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group hosts the Weapons System Evaluation Program, also known as Combat Archer, almost every month. Fourth- and fifth-generation airframes participate to include F/A-18 Super Hornets with the U.S. Navy, F-35 Lightning II’s with the U.S. Marine Corps and of course, almost every jet the Air Force has to offer.

Biannually, Combat Archer coincides with the DoD’s largest air-to-air combat exercise, Checkered Flag, also hosted by the 325th Fighter Wing. This year, iteration 23-2 of Checkered Flag and 23.08 of WSEP crossed paths 8-19 May, allowing more than 50 aircraft to participate at one time.

“Participating in Checkered Flag is pretty cool, especially getting to see all the jets,” said

Staff Sgt. Conner Mastrosimone, 4th Fighter Generation Squadron weapons load team chief. “It’s interesting to see how each of the other airframes [and their teams] load during exercises like this.”

After each missile is carefully loaded onto its respective airframe, it’s armed and sent into the EGOMEX, where pilots can then decide when and where to launch. During WSEPs, QF-16 drones as well as subscale drones are deployed to act as targets, providing the pilots and the missiles with the most accurate combat environment to test their capabilities.

After a sortie is completed, data from each missile fired is collected by the 325th MUNS and utilized to advance future missile programming. Often, WSEPs provide pilots and ground crews with their first opportunity to load, launch and fire live missiles.

“We don’t get to do a lot of [live weapons loading] back at our home station,” said Mastrosimone. “So, it feels good when the pilots come back and say they fired the missiles with no problems.”   

Tyndall’s prime location and extensive experience with large-scale exercises provides the DoD’s most lethal aviators and their ground crews with an accurate playing field to maintain total air dominance.