Air-to-Ground Weapon System Evaluation Program
The Weapon System Evaluation Program (WSEP) consists of 3 broad efforts: Air-to-Air WSEP (A/A WSEP; Combat Archer), Air-to-Ground WSEP (A/G WSEP; Combat Hammer), and Nuclear WSEP (Combat Sledgehammer). The program evaluates weapon systems in their entirety, including aircraft, weapon delivery system, weapon, aircrew, technical data, and maintenance, so the Air Force can assess operational effectiveness, verify weapon system performance, determine reliability, evaluate capability and limitations, identify deficiencies, and pursue corrective actions. It also gives crews valuable practice with actual weapons.
The A/G WESP was conducted by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group located at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group was comprised of 4 squadrons and one Detachment. The 81st Test Support Squadron and the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron and the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron were both located at Tyndall. The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron was located at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Detachment 1, 82nd ATRS was located at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. The Group conducted both the United States Air Force (USAF) Air-to-Air Weapon System Evaluation Program, known as Combat Archer (COMACC Plan 85), and the USAF Air-to-Ground Weapon System Evaluation Program, known as Combat Hammer (COMACC Plan 90). It also supported Weapons Instructor Course air-to-air formal training syllabi under COMACC Plan 92. The 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base hosted Combat Hammer.
The primary mission of Combat Hammer was to verify the combat capability of precision-guided weapon systems. Air Combat Command (ACC) was interested in anything the program could reveal about the ability of a weapon system to do its job. Weapon performance at both Air-to-Ground WSEP and at Air-to-Air WSEP was tracked statistically by the Air Force. Both WSEPs fell into a class of tests called follow-on test and evaluation. In fact, most of this FOT&E in the combat Air Force by the early 2000s was being done at WSEP.
ACC mandated these statistics be maintained to an 80 percent confidence level, meaning an 80 percent confidence that the statistics would equal real-world results. An 80 percent confidence level statistically translated into about 40 data points or weapons. This statistical relationship between the real world and the test world accounted for the existence of Combat Hammer.
The first air-to-ground WSEP came about in 1986 when Paveway II laser-guided bombs were not performing as expected. The weapon's performance in training and exercises was not replicating the near-perfect performance in testing. What was then Tactical Air Command wanted better analysis. Air-to-ground WSEP was the result. The first Combat Hammer involved 3 aircraft types (A-10, F-4, and F-111) and 2 air-to-ground weapons (AGM-65A/B Maverick missiles and GBU-12 laser-guided bombs) in 8 aircraft-weapon combinations. The program was evaluating 26 aircraft-weapon combinations by the early 2000s.
Combat Hammer exercises took place throughout the year. The schedule included one concentrated 2-week period at the Utah range and 3 or 4 evaluations at Eglin Air Force Base's test range near the Florida panhandle. Exercises included A-10s, F-15Es, and F-16s firing AGM-65 Maverick missiles; F-15Es firing AGM-130 rocket-powered glide bombs; and B-52s firing AGM-142 standoff missiles. This latter air-to-ground missile, also called Have Nap, had a 50-plus-mile range and a 2,000-pound warhead. Only the Maverick carried a functioning warhead in these evaluations.
About 15-20 Air Force units participated in Combat Hammer's one-week program. From aircrew members who flew the F-15E Strike Eagle dual-role fighter (air-to-air and interdiction) to those that flew the granddaddy of bombers, the B-52 Stratofortress, Combat Hammer enabled the crews to drop precision-guided munitions on real targets while multiple video cameras captured the missions to provide real-time feedback on combat tactics and weapon employment. Aircrews employed their munitions on targets at the Eglin Reservation while battling exercise combat threats that included simulated surface-to-air missiles to F-15C Eagles from the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron flying as enemy aggressors. Targets on the approximate 20- by 30-mile range were conex truck shipping containers configured to resemble bunkers.
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