TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
The 325th Fighter Wing often lends its flight line to units for something that can only be done in Tyndall Air Force Base’s unique airspace that it shares other military installations nearby; live fire missile testing.
The Weapons System Evaluation Program, ran by the 53rd Weapons Evaluations Group, is designed to test Department of Defense and allied personnel, missiles, air frames, and their guns in realistic air-to-air combat scenarios. On Feb. 3, 2020, this week-long exercise started with aircraft from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and even participation from the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“The exercise for us is kind of two-fold since we’re here to validate that our jets and missiles are both combat capable and also to train the pilot and maintainers on preparing and employing these weapons,” said Capt. Michael Reid, 314th Fighter Squadron project officer. “For a lot of us it’s the first time working with live missiles so this is a great opportunity for our folks to familiarize themselves here in the United States.”
All of this training happens over the Gulf of Mexico which is a short flight away when you’re in the cockpit of a fighter jet. The Eastern Gulf of Mexico (EGOMEX) airspace is an irreplaceable asset for the DoD spanning over 101,000 square miles of airspace and a combined 465,000 acres of land from surrounding bases. It is the largest over-water DoD training area in the continental U.S.
“EGOMEX is really a crucial location for this kind of training because we can’t do this anywhere else CONUS,” Reid said. “We have such a massive training field right here in our backyard and it’s not something we can replicate or move somewhere else, it really is one-of-a-kind and the types of training we can do here is invaluable.”
Units all around the country have the ability to send aircraft and their weapons here to be tested for combat effectiveness. All types of Air Force fighters such as the F-35 Lightning II, F-22 Raptor, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle, and even some unmanned aircraft come to Tyndall to be tested in air combat.
“This week we have a few units here that are going to be shooting down some training drones, and we’re going to be evaluating everything,” said SSgt Wilfredo Western-Ortiz, 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron weapons evaluator. “It’s similar to a deployed scenario where they come here with all of their equipment and personnel to load up missiles, take off and fire them and see how everything goes start to finish.”
The WSEP program is vital for the Air Force in maintaining combat readiness. Tyndall provides operational command and control for three fighter squadrons utilizing the range as well as exercises such as Checkered Flag and Combat Archer, leading the way for the growth and refinement of combat ready air dominance.