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Combat Archer: Past, Present and Future

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Terry Scott
  • 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron commander
What is Combat Archer you may ask? Combat Archer is the code name for the U.S. Air Force's air-to-air Weapons System Evaluation Program executed by the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron here.

WSEP is an evaluation conducted to prepare and evaluate operational fighter squadrons' readiness for combat operations. The program evaluates all phases of combat operations from weapons loading to aircraft performance, aircrew performance and weapons performance: an end-to-end kill-chain evaluation of man, weapon and machine combat in a realistic environment.

The WSEP program originated during the Vietnam conflict. Our fighting performance in the air was less than desirable in Vietnam. With the advent of new weapons, specifically air-to-air missiles carried by the fighters of the day, the combat performance did not match the predicted developmental test data.

The Air Force recognized that testing did not always represent the environment pilots would face in combat, so the Air Force started the WSEP program to give fighter squadrons the opportunity to employ air-to-air weapons in as close-to-combat environment as possible.

Conducting realistic training is done by preparing missiles with telemetry packs replacing warheads. Pilots carry telemetry pods on their fighter aircraft and employ weapons against a fighter-representative target. Their performance is scored based on the kill-rate and targets hit during their sorties here. In the late 1970s, WSEPs were conducted here on the Gulf Coast and in the pacific theater in the Philippines. By the 1990s, all air-to-air WSEPs were being conducted at Tyndall where the program continues today.

Currently we conduct 12 to 14 Combat Archer training periods per year. Each period is two weeks long. Typically, two fighter squadrons will deploy here with eight jets, personnel and equipment for the evaluation. On average, each year, we evaluate more than 200 jets and more than 2600 Airmen here. We will employ more than 300 air-to-air missiles each year.

The cost of this operation is not to be taken lightly, as it takes $120 million annually to accomplish our mission.

In addition to missile firings, we also evaluate the units on live air-to-air gunnery using the combat banner target set towed by a Learjet. Not only do we conduct WSEP for the U.S. Air Force, but we also perform these evaluations with our coalition partners. In addition, we host the world-wide air-to-air meet known as "William Tell."

We cannot conduct Combat Archer with out the host base support provided by the 325th Fighter Wing. Imagine if you will, the effort involved in bedding down, feeding and the overall care of over 2600 plus visitors each year.
Recently, the 83rd FWS munitions unit handed all missile operations and support to the host wing. In addition, the WSEP evaluations conducted for the 2nd Fighter Squadron, 95th Fighter Squadron and the 43rd Fighter Squadron helped us conduct two investigative firings to resolve weapons issues for the F-22 Raptor fleet.

The future of Combat Archer is critical to our success in any future aerial conflict and in maintaining air dominance. Through our evaluations, we continue to improve our weapons, pilots and maintainers so they will be ready when called. There are many challenges as we proceed into the 21st century. As new airplanes come on line, like the F-22 and F-35 Lighting II, WSEP will be the quality control unit to ensure our Airmen are best prepared for combat to ensure air dominance.