Eielson F-35s participate in WSEP, make strides towards first IOC squadron in PACAF

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin
  • 53rd Wing

The 356th Fighter Squadron made history as the first F-35A Lightning II unit in the Pacific Air Forces to participate in an air-to-air weapons evaluation here, Oct. 8-23, 2021. This is the second fifth-generation platform to be evaluated on live-fire air-to-air weapons employment in support of National Defense Strategy objectives. 
Successful completion of Weapon System Evaluation Program East 22.01 marks another milestone for the 356th FS, as they take a crucial step towards becoming the first Initial Operational Capability F-35A squadron in PACAF.  
“An F-35A stationed in the Pacific is one thing, an F-35A stationed in the Pacific that has successfully passed WSEP is another,” said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Grabham, 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, chief enlisted manager. “WSEP tests the effectiveness of their daily regime by injecting a deployed environment and live munitions. This is often the first time maintainers get a chance to load a live-munition onto their aircraft and the first time aircrew experience launching a missile at a threat representative, maneuvering target. This is strategic deterrence in the region that needs it most.”
Nine live missiles were fired during the exercise, all by first-time shooters to include the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile along with the AIM-9X Sidewinder. Additionally, pilots had the opportunity to shoot the F-35A’s 25mm cannon for the first time against a QF-16-towed Aerial Target Gunnery System.
“All of this realistic training is evaluated by a handpicked mix of experienced aircrew and maintainers empowered to commend and critique exercise participants,” said Grabham. “We compile missile fire data from our newest platform (F-35A) with our latest missile variants and software, which helps refine tactical application of the weapons system, uncovers any issues with the platform/missile interface, and eventually feeds Air Force doctrine.”
The 53rd WEG operates a fleet of subscale aerial targets along with the only full-scale, threat-representative targets in the DoD. These assets, coupled with the expansive airspace managed by the Eglin Test and Training Range, enable both short and long-range missile shots. WSEP events provide invaluable training to maintenance and aircrew members.
The next event will combine WSEP East 22.02 with Checkered Flag 22-1, which is slated to take place Nov. 8-19, 2021, at Tyndall.