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79th FS ‘Tigers’ roar in Raptor Country

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Solomon Cook
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

As the second week of Checkered Flag 18-1 and concurrently running Weapon Systems Evaluation Program exercises continues, Airmen from the 79th Fighter Squadron from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, sustain the high tempo while bringing further dynamics to the large-scale exercises.

Checkered Flags are a variety of exercises that focus heavily on integrating the Total Force through training active-duty Airmen while capitalizing on the knowledge, experience, and proficiency of Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen.

The 79th FS Tigers brought their iconic F-16 Fighting Falcon, a multi-role fighter aircraft that is highly maneuverable and provides air-to-air and air-to-surface attack capabilities to the U.S. and Allied nations.

“We brought 14 F-16s to Tyndall for the two weeks of Checkered Flag and the WSEP,” said Capt. Bradley Oatmen, 79th FS F-16 flight lead. “For the WSEP, we are evaluating and helping drive tactics and procedures for air-to-air missiles. We will shoot upward of 30 air-to-air missiles, testing new techniques and capabilities of the missiles we have at our disposal.”

Oatmen went on to further explain Checkered Flag 18-1 as a whole and the purpose of such exercises.

“It is a large-force exercise focused mainly on fourth and fifth-generation aircraft integration,” Oatmen said. “There will be F-16s, F-22 [Raptors], F-35 [Lightning IIs] and F-15E [Strike Eagles] combining and working together for counter-air missions. These will be both defensive and offensive counter-air to deal with more advanced threats that fourth and fifth-generation aircraft can hope to handle together in the next big war if we have to.”

Shaw and their 79th FS play a vital role in the security of the United States and allies as they are the only Air Force installation in the nation to provide a distinct type of protection.

“The F-16 at Shaw are the only stateside Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses unit, so we are block 50 F-16s and we have the technology to see air-to-ground threats out there,” Oatmen said. “[For example] surface-to-air radar sites that would try to shoot missiles at our aircraft, and we have different weapons, whether it be bombs or anti-radiation harms to suppress those threats and allow the other aircraft to survive in a contested environment.

“Our main role at Shaw is to escort other aircraft in the Air Force into those contested environments where the SAMs are so they can do their job. We bring a very support oriented aspect to protect them from those threats,” he added.

The Tigers converged on Tyndall with more than seven other units to combine Checkered Flag with the WSEP, not only to allow the Airmen to train but to provide an opportunity for the aircraft and Airmen to be evaluated on their readiness for executing combat air-to-air operations at the same time, saving the Air Force money.

“We have a long history of using WSEP to view weapon systems from cradle to grave. We see how a manufacturer says it will perform, look at every piece and evaluate it from the moment we bring up a missile out of the bomb dump up until it fuses on a realistic simulated enemy aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Lee, 44th Fighter Group deputy commander and Checkered Flag 18-1 Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander.

“Doing a WSEP in conjuncture with Checkered Flag while units are here, they are getting experiences of what a warfighter sees in a simulated environment,” Lee added.

To ensure mission success, Shaw sent all the necessary components needed to man, equip and maintain tasking.

“Shaw brought just short of 200 personnel, including pilots, maintainers, life support and support personnel to generate the 14 jets we will bring to the exercise,” Oatmen said. “It takes a lot to get that amount of people to a different base.

“We don’t just travel down there. We bring all the equipment we may need to fix anything on the spot down there. Bringing all of that equipment and the people where they need to be is a huge effort,” he added.

Although the Air Force trains some of the best pilots in the world, not all of the competencies of an aircraft are experienced overnight. Oatmen elaborated on some of the unique and first-time opportunities Checkered Flag 18-1 will bring him.

“I’ve never shot an actual air-to-air missile,” he said. “We train to and we drop a lot of bombs when we are able to. Shooting a live missile is going to force me to know and study all of the intricacies of employing that weapon, and to actually see one come off the jet and work is one thing I am excited about.”

As the second and final week of the exercises come to a close, the Airmen that visited Tyndall and participated in the exercises will take their experiences back to their homestations with further knowledge of Air Force capabilities and better prepared for the future of Air Superiority.