HILL AIR FORCE BASE — They aren’t UFOs and Northern Utah is not being invaded by an enemy military force.
If you happened to notice any strange looking aircraft hurtling through the skies the past couple of weeks, it’s highly likely those planes are participating in Hill Air Force Base’s biannual combat training and weapons testing program, Combat Hammer.
Until May 14, the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, a Hill tenant unit based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, will be conducting the training exercise, which includes air-to-ground weapons testing on more than 40 of the U.S. Air Force’s combat aircraft.
Hill spokesman Micah Garbarino said the exercise evaluates the performance of air crews, pilots and their equipment while they practice dropping bombs aimed at ground targets at the Utah Test and Training Range in Utah’s West Desert.
“This is a great opportunity for Airmen to deploy weapons in a combat-simulated environment,” said Lt. Col. Craig Marion, commander of the 86th FWS’s Detachment 1 in a press release. “The Utah Test and Training Range is one of the few places with enough airspace, resources and technological capability to perform this critical test and evaluation.”
According to a Hill fact sheet, the UTTR has the “largest block of overland contiguous special use airspace” in the continental U.S. and is the only Department of Defense location where the overland testing of cruise missiles can be performed.
During Combat Hammer, Marion said, crews gather and examine data on how the bombs perform, determining how fit they are for use in real-life combat scenarios. After the data is analyzed, the squadron prepares a report for leaders of the military’s group of combatant commands, based at seven strategic locations across the globe. The reports are used for planning, funding and resource allocation, Marion said.
The list of aircraft participating in the exercise includes F-15Es from Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina; A-10s from Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; F-16s from Hill and Tuscon Air National Guard Base, Arizona; B-1s from Dyess AFB, Texas; and B-52s from Minot AFB, North Dakota.
Base spokesman Rich Essary said the fighter units fly into Utah and stay at Hill during the exercise, but the bomber units typically deploy and participate from their home stations.
Garbarino said Northern Utah residents will likely notice more aircraft traffic and noise during the evaluation. Though the exercise is led by the 86th FWS, it’s also supported by Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing and 75th Air Base Wing.