Weapons testing brings more air traffic to HAFB, western desert

Weapons testing brings more air traffic to HAFB, western desert

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News, File)

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CLEARFIELD — The volume of jet traffic flying over northern Utah will be higher than normal for the next couple of weeks.

Over the past week, residents around Hill Air Force Base have likely noticed an increase in aircraft takeoffs and landings as the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron conducts the military air-to-ground exercise known as Combat Hammer, along with the air-to-air exercise called Combat Archer.

"The first week, we drop bombs," said Lt. Col. Tapan Sen, commander of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron. "The next week, we shoot missiles and fly drones out over the Wendover area and make sure (the) missiles are functioning the way they are supposed to."

The training exercises are part of an 11-day program that runs through Aug. 18, he explained, with aircraft from Hill and four other units from around the nation participating over the Utah Test and Training Range dropping munitions in realistic combat scenarios.

With support from the 388th Fighter Wing and 75th Air Base Wing, 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron airmen will collect and analyze data on how these precision weapons perform and their fitness for use in combat, he said.

"For all combat aircraft, we bring them in and evaluate the effectiveness, and suitability and accuracy of the precision-guided munitions of the combat Air Force," Sen said. "We have them practice that with tactical delivery against realistic targets and simulated realistic enemy defenses."

While the goal of Combat Hammer is to assess air-to-ground munitions, Sen noted that Combat Archer evaluates air-to-air firepower.

The exercise involves examination of operational Department of Defense and partner nations' total air-to-air weapons system actions in live-fire combat situations aimed at enhancing combat Air Force training and readiness as well as weapons effectiveness, Sen said.

“We try to take an objective look at (the testing results) and provide data,” he said.

The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron from Hill Air Force Base conducts Combat Hammer while the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron from Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base acts as host of Combat Archer, he said.

Sen said one of the advantages of conducting the training in Utah is the availability of suitable land for munitions testing.

“The land out to the west is very sparsely inhabited, so you can drop weapons that are longer range and with less restrictions than you would on the gulf coast of Florida,” he said. “Not being a whole lot out there makes it less restrictive for us.”

Aircraft participating in the program include F-35As from Hill; F-15Es from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina; B-1s from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota; and B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.


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