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F-15 air-to-air combat training at Tyndall

Technical Sgt. Terrance Brown, Technical Sgt. Scott Gemelli, and Staff Sgt. Ryan Quigley from the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard unload rounds for the first time from the F-15 at Tyndall AFB, Florida as they participate in the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP), known as Combat Archer, on April 19, 2011. This training is important for the ground crews to test their maintenance systems and processes while loading live munitions on the F-15 eagle, as well as critical live war fighting training for the F-15 pilots to employ air-to-air missiles against real world targets.  (U.S.A.F. photograph by Senior Master Sgt. Robert J. Sabonis)

Technical Sgt. Terrance Brown, Technical Sgt. Scott Gemelli, and Staff Sgt. Ryan Quigley from the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard unload rounds for the first time from the F-15 at Tyndall AFB, Florida as they participate in the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP), known as Combat Archer, on April 19, 2011. This training is important for the ground crews to test their maintenance systems and processes while loading live munitions on the F-15 eagle, as well as critical live war fighting training for the F-15 pilots to employ air-to-air missiles against real world targets. (U.S.A.F. photograph by Senior Master Sgt. Robert J. Sabonis)

A newly achieved AIM-9 Sidewinder Shooter patch worn my Col. Kenneth Lambrich from the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard as he watches maintenance crews work on the F-15 at Tyndall AFB, Florida as they participate in the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP), known as Combat Archer, on April 19, 2011. This training is important for the ground crews to test their maintenance systems and processes while loading live munitions on the F-15 eagle, as well as critical live war fighting training for the F-15 pilots to employ air-to-air missiles against real world targets.  (U.S.A.F. photograph by Senior Master Sgt. Robert J. Sabonis)

A newly achieved AIM-9 Sidewinder Shooter patch worn my Col. Kenneth Lambrich from the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts Air National Guard as he watches maintenance crews work on the F-15 at Tyndall AFB, Florida as they participate in the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP), known as Combat Archer, on April 19, 2011. This training is important for the ground crews to test their maintenance systems and processes while loading live munitions on the F-15 eagle, as well as critical live war fighting training for the F-15 pilots to employ air-to-air missiles against real world targets. (U.S.A.F. photograph by Senior Master Sgt. Robert J. Sabonis)

(Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.) -- Pilots of the 104th Fighter Wing deployed to Tyndall AFB, Florida for a two week training period in April to participate in the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP), also known as "Combat Archer". This is the first opportunity for the F-15 pilots of the 131st Fighter Squadron to engage in actual air-to-air combat using missiles against real world targets, providing them with greater confidence in their abilities, and reinforcing their hard work and training efforts at home station.

During regular training flights or sorties conducted at home station, ground crews and pilots go through the process of loading and firing a missile, without actually firing it, so there's no way to be certain whether the shot was accurate, and if it hit the target.

Combat Archer provides and tests the weapons systems of every Air Force combat aircraft platform, from many different units every year who fire the AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. The explosive warheads are removed and replaced with a telemetry package that tracks the missiles trajectory during the combat exercise, sending data back to program managers where they can view the "shot" accuracy via the Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) pod.

The pilots fire at the MQM-107D "Streaker", an unmanned mini-drone of which the projected heat signature can be altered to imitate other aircraft. Another target is the full size unmanned modified F-4 aircraft which provides a full scale target during the combat exercise. These drones are shot down over the Gulf of Mexico, within the "safe combat" training air space, and then recovered by WSEP personnel, and reused. The main mission is to fire live air-to-air missiles, but the F-15 pilots are also tested on their war fighting skills against dissimilar aircraft platforms, such as the F-16 and F-22 aircraft.

The training Combat Archer provides to the 104 Fighter Wing pilots increases their confidence and mission readiness, should the time come that they are required to down another aircraft. According to Col. Kenneth Lambrich, 104th Fighter Wing Detachment Commander, the evaluation of the 104th's performance to this point has been "the best fleet seen to date inspected by the WSEP team". Not only do the pilots receive training, but the F-15 ground crews also receive training and a grade in the evaluation process. "We've had no lost sorties, and maintenance has been performing at top-notch quality since day one", Col. Lambrich remarked. Capt. Osome Benedict commented that "according to the evaluation team, the 104th Fighter Wing's performance has been unheard of at Combat Archer".