Navy combat aviators live fire weapons during Tyndall WSEP
By Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 19, 2021
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Tyndall Air Force Base’s unique airspace paves the way not only for the U.S. Air Force but also for sister service, the U.S. Navy, and many other service partners who come together to conduct mission objectives in as close to real world operations as possible.
Tyndall welcomed Sailors stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, to bring their F/A-18 Super Hornet, for the 53rd Wing’s Weapons System Evaluation Program 22.02 to utilize the training environment.
“We typically only train with target ammunition or actually fire [at the] ground; we never get to fire the gun air-to-air-wise,” said Lt. “Dangi” Fridono, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 94, Hornet pilot. “This will be my first time actually firing rounds in the air-to-air environment.”
WSEP is the Air Force’s joint program to test air-to-air and air-to-ground live fire weapons employment for combat aviators.
“We have started our work-up cycle for deploying,” said Fridono. “It is a requirement for us to shoot live missiles and shoot the aerial gun; essentially prerequisites to go on deployment.”
These evaluations provide an opportunity for pilots to qualify in air-to-air combat techniques prior to deployment by conducting target practice.
“[An aircraft] will tow this cloth banner and at approximately one thousand feet and our pilots will come from above to shoot into the banner itself,” said Fridono.
The cloth banner is approximately 8-feet wide by 30-feet long and is attached to a Learjet. The fighter jets move in a circular pattern within the airspace, allowing many passes into the target area for each fighter aircraft.
Conducting exercises that include sister branches such as the Navy, helps the Joint Force test and develop its capabilities and build confidence in multi-platform interoperability.
“The Hornet has a little bit more versatility in the weapons we carry; we can carry almost everything,” said Fridono. “We are an F/A platform, which means we are a multi-role fighter so we can do air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. In addition to taking off and landing on a [naval aircraft carrier], we can carry certain maritime weapons that Air Force platforms may not be as specialized in.”
An undeniable advantage of this joint training partnership is getting the opportunity to build the nation’s global response force by strengthening relationships between units to ensure a more lethal force in combat.
“It’s important for us to be able to operate together; we both fly fighter jets, we both bring certain capabilities to the fight,” said Fridono. “It’s good exposure to fly in integration and see how the Air Force operates.”
VFA-94 is participating in WSEP 22.02 while the 325th Fighter Wing simultaneously hosts Checkered Flag 22-1. Many units visiting Tyndall are participating in both exercises, saving resources and providing a unique training battlefield for a variety of aircraft and support personnel from across the Department of Defense.