The US Air Force’s 94th Fighter Squadron and 94th Fighter Generation Squadron assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, broke the record for the most air-to-air missiles loaded and successfully fired by an F-22 Raptor during a Weapons System Evaluation Program at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, in September 2022.
As a cohesive team, the units employed 28 air-to-air missiles valued at more than $14 million during WSEP 22.12, deeming them the most successful unit to attend a WSEP thus far.
They also demonstrated a high-level of proficiency while shooting the F-22’s six-barrel, 20mm Gatling gun, and the M61A2 Vulcan at the Advanced Gunnery Target System.
“This just shows that we’re at the top of our game right now,” said Staff Sgt. Edgar Baez-Lopez, 94th FGS aircraft armament systems craftsman. “As the 1st Fighter Wing, we’re already held to those high standards, but even for us, 28 air-to-air missiles is unheard of, and it’s record-setting for a reason.”
WSEP is a formal, two-week evaluation exercise designed to test a squadron’s capabilities to conduct live-fire weapons systems during air-to-air combat training missions.
“It basically tells big Air Force that our unit is prepared to deploy and if they did deploy us, how well we would perform compared to other squadrons,” said Baez-Lopez.
During WSEP, the team faced several challenges, including: fewer available aircraft, less manning, and multiple first-time shooter pilots, but still shattered the record, which dates back to 2014 when the 90th Fighter Squadron from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson successfully employed 22 air-to-air missiles fired by an F-22 Raptor.
“Breaking the record with a smaller footprint where we only brought an eight ship and reduced manning, which lowered costs, was a great testament to our world-class SPAD maintainers and the relationship between the 94th Fighter Squadron and 94th Fighter Generation Squadron,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jared Robinson, 94th FGS sorties generation superintendent. “We re-organized this year, but we’ve managed to stay very tight-knit between ops and maintenance.
“We’ve built a rapport and relationship over many years and being able to communicate and remain flexible when working with each other, whether it’s scheduling the aircraft or understanding each other’s limiting factors, has been key.”
As the only service-retained F-22 combat wing, these units are no stranger to no-notice deployment taskings. Exercises like these present vital opportunities to test how poised and ready they are to provide the world’s most lethal air power anywhere, anytime.
“Here back at Langley, we constantly train, but at WSEP, the pilots go through the muscle motion of actually firing rounds or a missile, and the same goes for our maintainers to get the highest fidelity of training possible,” said Robinson. “Our weapons and ammo Airmen are dealing with munitions daily, but that extra emphasis of dealing with live rounds, the responsibility, and safety requirements that come with it is imperative.”
In addition to being evaluated on their overall readiness to deploy and execute the mission, the exercise boosted the crew’s confidence in their capabilities.
“We always love to take our newer Airmen on these temporary duties because it gives them a real-world scenario before we leave for the real thing,” said Baez-Lopez. “It shows us that we’re more than ready. Whenever the call comes, no matter the location, our younger Airmen can focus on preparing mentally and physically and know that we’re more than ready for the job.”