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Combat Hammer 2014: Boosting RPA strike proficiency

CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- The role of modern aerial warfare has drastically changed since it was first used on a large scale in World War I. The advent of precision-guided munitions has aided in providing strike capabilities to combatant commanders while helping to reduce or even eliminate unnecessary suffering.

Airmen from the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing and the air-to-ground weapons system evaluation program, or WSEP, team participated in the 2014 Combat Hammer exercise May 12-15, to operationally assess and evaluate the reliability, maintainability, suitability, and accuracy of remotely piloted aircraft munitions.

"In layman's terms our mission is to look at the weapon from cradle to grave in a controlled environment," said Maj. John Collier, the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron lead WSEP evaluator. "We do this so combatant commanders are provided the necessary information to ensure they plan and pair the correct number of weapons against any given type of target."

Crews from various major commands participated in the week-long exercise to include the 432nd Attack Squadron from the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, joining via remote split operations, or RSO.

Remote split operations allow for MQ-9 Reapers to take off from Creech AFB and be flown by aircrew with access to a ground control station, making it possible for more RPA units to engage in WSEP operations.

"The RSO capability provides us a unique opportunity that other (traditional) operations groups can't do," said Capt. Marcus, the 432nd Operations Support Squadron WSEP project officer. "We can fight in combat overseas in the morning and participate in a major evaluation of weapons at home in the afternoon."

Aircrews selected to fly varied in rank and skill level, and for many it was their first time deploying either the GBU-12 Paveway II bomb or the AGM-114 Hellfire missile.

"It was my first time taking part in an exercise like this," said Airman 1st Class Gillian, a 42nd Attack Squadron sensor operator. "It was awesome and really helpful for learning purposes to see weapons deploy and impact a target before having to use them for real. I truly learned a lot."

During the exercise MQ-9 Reapers flew in a two-ship formation flight through Federal Aviation Administration airspace to the Utah Test and Training Range at Hill AFB, Utah.

This marked one of the first times RPA assets were allowed to travel in formation, which aircrew members were also able to use as a training opportunity.

Along with achieving many firsts, safety remained a priority throughout the week.

"There were no safety violations; everything was spot on," Senior Master Sgt. Gregory Young, the 86th FWS WSEP production superintendent. "This is my third time out here and everything always runs exactly how it should."

Leadership from the 432nd Wing/432nd AEW praised Airmen and WSEP team members for their hard work and dedication to superior performance during Combat Hammer.

"It's truly outstanding work by the maintenance team and by the crews both locally and from a distance," said Col. James Chittenden, the 432nd Wing/432nd AEW vice commander.

Fighter, bomber and RPA units around the Air Force are evaluated four times a year and provided weapons, airspace and targets from Hill AFB, Utah, or Eglin AFB, Florida.

"This was a great WSEP because the (Airmen) pulled a lot of lessons learned to help save lives, and ultimately that's what we're here to do," Collier said.