HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – The 388th and 419th Fighter Wings recently completed two exercises over three weeks here known as Combat Hammer and Combat Archer from Aug. 6-24 as part of the Air Force’s annual Weapons System Evaluation Program.

Evaluators from the WSEP team assessed Hill’s weapons crews, maintainers, and pilots to ensure they build, load, and employ the weapons properly. The team also evaluated a variety of air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles to include laser-guided smart bombs, GPS-guided joint direct attack munitions, and medium-range and heat-seeking missiles.

Joining Hill’s F-35s for the exercise were F-15s from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, and F-16s from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., and Nellis AFB, Nev. This is the second year Hill’s F-35s have participated.

“We’re taking a close look at processes and procedures ‘from cradle to grave’ for each munition and testing the skills of weapons crews and pilots during scenarios that replicate wartime,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Williams of the WSEP team. “We want to ensure the weapons are operating as advertised and that everyone who touches them are doing it by the book.”

The team also reviewed each pilot’s in-flight footage and data recorders to see whether they dropped weapons within the parameters spelled out during pre-flight mission planning, Williams said. The highly advanced “smart” weapons also provide data inputs and indicators that can be reviewed after they are dropped to give evaluators an inside look at their performance.

“It’s always a good thing to have new sets of eyes on us as we carry out the mission,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brandon Goodwin, superintendent for the 466th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “Given the nature of what we do, we have to be absolutely certain that both the people and weapons are ready when the time comes.

This year, the second for Hill’s F-35s to participate, marked two significant milestones for the program. The jet fired the AIM-9X, an advanced heat-seeking air-to-air missile, for the first time and delivered weapons using upgraded 3F software that allows the missile to be mounted on the jet externally.

“It’s been awesome to see the advancements in the program in just a little over a year,” said 1st Lt. Keith Gregorcyk, assistant OIC for the 4th AMU. “We’ve gone from being able to launch only several munitions from the internal stores to now being able to fully load the aircraft with external AIM-9Xs. We’re making fast progress, and with the new software we’re really beginning to see what the F-35 can do.”

In total, the participating units built, loaded, and dropped 147 bombs and 18 missiles over the Utah Test and Training Range west of Hill AFB. Of those, the F-35 dropped 30 bombs and 13 missiles.

Hill AFB is slated to be home to three operational F-35A fighter squadrons with a total of 78 aircraft by the end of 2019. The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill in September 2015. The active duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW will fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components.