The US Air Force recently conducted the largest Maritime Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP), which it describes as an extremely rare opportunity. The event was held from April 7 to 15, 2022.
It was carried out by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group of the United States Air Force (USAF), and the iterations encompassed air-to-air, air-to-ground, as well as electronic warfare, announcement USAF in a press release.
The 53rd Wing is the focal point for combat aviation forces in the areas of electronic warfare, armament and avionics, chemical defense, reconnaissance, and aircrew training. The Wing is also responsible for operational testing and evaluation of new equipment and systems being considered for use by these forces.
In terms of the number of weapons used and targets destroyed, it was thought to be the largest marine WSEP ever. The test took place at Eglin Air Force Base and over the Gulf of Mexico.
A-10s from the 74th Fighter Squadron and 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron took part in the exercises and were examined on their capabilities as nonconformist and laser-guided weapons against marine targets.
“This is an extremely rare opportunity, as actual air-to-surface weapons ranges with real maritime targets are rare,” said Major Randall Ott, 59th TES program manager. “Maritime targets are expected in multiple tactical environments, and being able to quickly pursue large numbers of them is important to multiple combat commanders.”
According to the USAF, U-28 aircraft from the 1st Special Operations Wing assisted in target acquisition during the COMBAT HAMMER (air-to-ground) component of WSEP. B-1 Lancers from the 34th Bomb Squadron also took part in the COMBAT HAMMER phase.
MQ-9 Reapers from the 12th and 3rd Special Operations Squadrons were employed to accomplish minimal equipment and manpower operations.
To conduct the assessments, all of these aircraft and mission sets used the many bodies of water, airspace, and surroundings of Eglin. The 96th Test Wing’s Range Group is in charge of the ranges. The 96th Operations Support Squadron is in charge of the event program and airspace.
Steps involved in the program
Months before the event, preparations were made to coordinate the types and numbers of aircraft and weapons, target requirements, airspace, etc. Coordinators help range operators secure necessary marine equipment, such as the Gulf Range Armament Test Vessel.
It is a barge that has been sent to the test region of the Gulf of Mexico and houses the equipment and the 24 people needed to operate it. The floating test center handles mobile microwaves, communications, telemetry and camera images.
The 96th Range Control Squadron took control during the exercise. The squadron is responsible for the central control facility, which oversees the entire mission. Communication between the test directors, controllers, air traffic control and flight personnel is ensured by CCF personnel.
They also ensure that mission images and data provided to the CCF are presented in real time for data collection and visualization.
“Documenting failures on aircraft, personnel, and weapons success rate ‘and providing that data to Air Force leadership is part of the program’s mission,'” said Maj. Nathan Tesch of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, which is the lead evaluator for the MQ-9 Reaper, a multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicle that was part of the WSEP.
Although much of what happens during WSEP weapons testing is kept secret, the Air Force said last year that a WSEP was held in March 2021 from the base. aerial nearby Tyndall. included the world’s oldest air-to-air missile launch.
An AIM-120D AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) was launched from an F-15C Eagle and collided with a BQM-167 subscale drone.
The range of the successful firing was not released, but a 53rd Wing official noted that the missile launch was “an intentional test sortie in which we were trying to accomplish this”.
The AIM-120D, the latest AMRAAM variant from Raytheon Technologies Corporation, has a classified range due to fears of leaking knowledge of combat aircraft limitations. According to various media reports focusing on military technology and military contracts, the range of the missile is around 100 miles.