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F-35As fly in weapons evaluation

HILL AIR FORCE BASE. Utah -- Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings supported and flew F-35A Lightning II aircraft during Combat Hammer, the first operational air-to-ground weapons evaluation for the Air Force’s newest fighter jets.

Combat Hammer is one phase of the Weapons System Evaluation Program, or WSEP, and tests and validates the performance of crews, pilots and their technology while deploying air-to-ground precision-guided munitions for the F-35A.

The weeklong evaluation exercise concluded Aug. 11, 2017 and Lt. Col. Timothy Smith, the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron detachment commander who oversaw Combat Hammer, said he received positive feedback regarding above-average mission and sortie rates.

“Overall, everything went as planned and all participating units performed very well, including the 34th Fighter Squadron’s F-35s,” he said.

Smith also praised the team effort involving corporate partners, the 388th and 419th FWs, pilots, munitions and maintenance personnel and the 86th FWS evaluators for making Combat Hammer a success.

The 53rd Wing is the operational test wing for the Air Force. They develop, test, evaluate and deliver effective and sustainable combat capabilities to perfect lethality and survivability of our nation’s combat forces. Teams from the 53rd Wing, the parent command of the 86th FWS, have been integral in the operational testing and evaluation of the F-35A that supported last year’s Initial Operational Capability declaration and now continue marching toward full operational capability for the Joint Strike Fighter.

Col. Dave Abba, the 53rd Wing commander at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, visited Hill AFB to observe Combat Hammer and meet with 86th FWS Airmen, operations crews and evaluation participants.

“It’s obvious to me that the active-duty and Reserve leadership chain at Hill (AFB) have completely jumped on board with bringing this airplane up to speed, getting it to FOC, and getting it ready to participate on a global scale,” said Abba. “They’re passionate to learn more about the weapon system and everybody is concerned with providing effective capability for the warfighter.”

Abba stated Combat Hammer was absolutely essential to ensuring that our (weapons) systems continue to work as they were designed to work. The emphasis is on finding potential issues in a controlled environment, with the ability to assess the weapons in real time to ensure that we don’t get surprised in combat.

Statistical data derived from Combat Hammer assists leaders at the highest Air Force levels in making resourcing decisions; it also provides contingency planners with a solid understanding on weapons systems performance and the effects they’ll achieve.

“What air-to-air (Combat Archer) and air-to-ground WSEP bring to the fight is statistical confidence,” said Abba. “So that’s really the key to this: it’s not simply subjective opinions about whether these things work or whether they don’t work, we bring the numbers to back it up so we can tell our senior leadership with a certain degree of confidence that this airplane with this munition against this sort of a target is going to have this probability of success.”

Abba is confident the F-35A will be a critical system in ensuring national security.

“It’s going to be the cornerstone of our fighting force for a long time and from what we’ve seen so far, it’s living up to the challenge and meeting our expectations, and in several areas exceeding it,” he said.