Combat Archer- Live missile shoot story

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rapier01

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Unread post14 Apr 2009, 20:39

I hope this is the right forum for it. Thought this might be of interest.

Examiner.com wrote:Combat Archer: Maintaining America's edge in the air

Combat Archer is an annual United States Air Force (USAF) live fire air combat exercise designed to test both man and machine says 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron (FWS) Director of Operations Lieutenant Colonel Ted “Vader” Dempsey. The 83rd FWS is the USAF unit that organizes and runs the Combat Archer program. Describing the exercise as an air-to-air Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP), Dempsey explains, “Combat Archer bridges the test world with the operational world.”

Every month two squadrons deploy to Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) near Panama City, Florida, to shoot live air-to-air missiles at drone aircraft over ranges in the Gulf of Mexico, Dempsey explains. However, shooting live missiles is not the only goal of Combat Archer.

Every aspect of weapons handling is evaluated, from the maintainers who load the weapons to the pilots’ ability to efficiently engage the enemy. The process, as Dempsey describes it, is a “tactical evaluation of the units’ ability to engage an enemy”.

Captain Paul “Loco” Lopez is an F-15C Eagle pilot from the 71st Fighter Squadron who is participating in the current Combat Archer. For Lopez, the WSEP is “quite an experience”, he said.

For participating pilots like Lopez, a typical day at the exercise begins in the very early hours of the morning with a series of briefings that exceed two hours in length, he said. In addition to the normal briefing process pilots engage in prior to a flight at their home base, Lopez explains that at Combat Archer, there are specific procedural briefings “on how to shoot on a live profile”, adding that the process is “admin intensive”.

Once the pilots have completed their briefings, the next step is to inspect the aircraft before the flight. “It’s quite an experience seeing a real missile on the jet. Back at our home base we normally only fly with concrete missiles. The maintenance crews are also fired up loading a live round.” Lopez said.

Once in the air, the pilots have to fly to a set point over the ranges located over the Gulf of Mexico. Once the pilots are cleared “downrange to fire”, Lopez said that launching a missile is a “pretty humbling” sight. “You want to stare at the missile, but you can’t, you still have to fly”, Lopez explained.

Once the missiles are fired, the 83rd FWS gathers data from the missile shot. This data is crucial to the United States Air Force and the other services, Major Jake Porter, Chief Analyst for the 83rd FWS, explains. The data gathered at Tyndall is used to determine the effectiveness of air-to-air weaponry and informs tactics development at the USAF’s elite Weapons School and 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron. “We’re part of the follow-on test and evaluation process for operationally fielded weapons”, he explained. The monthly live missile shots serve to further validate the performance of the weapons he explained.

On the receiving end of the missiles, the drones are flown by the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron (ATRS) and are either the full-scale and optionally manned QF-4 Phantom II drones or the sub-scale BQM-167A drones. Often the full-scale QF-4 drones, which are converted Vietnam-era F-4 Phantoms, will fly with a human pilot during rehearsal “cold passes”, Dempsey explained. These “cold passes” are flown in order to make sure that everything goes according to plan when live weapons are used. Additionally, in order to evaluate gun passes, a banner is towed behind a Lear Jet to act as an aerial target.

After each engagement, the USAF tries to recover the downed drones in order to reuse the expensive hardware, however, one out of every 10 drones is a permanent loss. Dempsey explains, that while the loss of a drone is expensive, the training gained and the weapons performance data gathered is worth the cost. “You can’t put a cost on someone’s life”, Dempsey said, explaining that the training is crucial to maintaining America’s edge in air combat.

For the pilots flying the Combat Archer missions, completing the missile launch doesn’t mean the day is over Lopez said. Pilots are assigned to secondary missions such as practicing basic fighter maneuvers and air combat maneuvering, Lopez explains.

Dempsey explains that Combat Archer evaluates the entirety of the air-to-air mission including dissimilar air combat training. Normally, at their own home bases, pilots train against similar jets from their own unit, however Combat Archer provides the visiting pilots an opportunity to train against dissimilar aircraft from other units. Dempsey explains that the visiting squadrons “task share”, taking turns to play the enemy “Red Air” to enhance the training. Lopez said that the day before the Examiner’s interview with him, he took off behind a pair of F/A-18 Hornets also flying in the exercise.

Dempsey explained that while Combat Archer was originally an Air Force exercise, over the last six months the Navy and the Marine Corps have joined the program, sending their F/A-18 Hornets to participate in the exercises. Dempsey explains that the days where the Navy and Marine Corps flew with completely dissimilar tactics and procedures from the Air Force are gone. “Joint tactics development is, as DOD, our gospel.” Dempsey said, adding that the USAF Weapons School and the Navy’s Top Gun school are working to fix the remaining issues. “It’s all getting very similar”, he added. Dempsey also notes that foreign allies are eligible to participate in the exercise depending upon agreements signed with the US government.

For the pilots returning after a Combat Archer mission, the day doesn’t end until after a very detailed debriefing, Dempsey explained. The debriefing is crucial to the learning process as the evaluators give the participants feedback on their performance and point out areas needing improvement. Lopez explains, “Its very different at home, there are no subject matter experts on hand. Over here they’re able to help you.” Dempsey added that while the DOD has essentially standardized a level of excellence within the ranks of America’s fighter pilots, there are always improvements that can be made. The 83rd FWS cadre of “dedicated, experienced, professionals” are there to help the visiting pilots improve their weapons handling procedures, Dempsey said, adding that the visiting pilots “don’t get to do this everyday.”

source: http://www.examiner.com/x-5411-NY-Milit ... g-the-edge
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TC

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Unread post15 Apr 2009, 09:35

Excellent post Rapier! Pops worked for several years in the FSAT program. I've got quite a bit of stuff about drones that I'll have to post when I have a little more time. Thanks again!
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tank_top

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Unread post18 Apr 2009, 06:18

Anybody think they will be using F-14 for this anytime soon? What else are the goof for?

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PhillyGuy

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Unread post18 Apr 2009, 13:28

Aren't F-14 stored for WWIII? That's probably just a catch phrase now.
"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
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rapier01

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Unread post20 Apr 2009, 20:52

From what the 83rd FWS/DO told me, they're thinking probably the QF-16 is next target drone...

Excellent post Rapier!


Thanks!
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Unread post21 Apr 2009, 04:15

The Blk. 15 A/Bs will be the next FSAT.

The Tomcat fleet is being dismantled as we speak. Better to run them through the crusher, than valuable parts wind up in Iranian hands. Also, they're a bit too complex to utilize as an FSAT.

Last plan I had heard from the Navy was to pool their assets with the AF, and jointly utilize one drone, in this case, the F-16A/B. If the Navy does make their own FSAT, then their next generation drone will be the A and B model Hornets. However, as it stands, the Navy and Marines are already participating in Combat Archer, and deploy their aircraft to Tyndall for WSEP missions using AF FSATs.

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