Eielson AFB F-35s participate in WSEP, make strides towards first IOC squadron in PACAF Published Oct. 26, 2021 By 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin 53rd Wing TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The 356th Fighter Squadron made history as the first F-35A Lightning II unit in the Pacific Air Forces to participate in an air-to-air weapons evaluation at Tyndall Air Force Base, Oct. 8-23. This is the second fifth-generation platform to be evaluated on live-fire air-to-air weapons employment in support of National Defense Strategy objectives. Successful completion of Weapon System Evaluation Program East 22.01 marks another milestone for the 356th FS, as they take a crucial step towards becoming the first Initial Operational Capability F-35A squadron in PACAF. “An F-35A stationed in the Pacific is one thing, an F-35A stationed in the Pacific that has successfully passed WSEP is another,” said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Grabham, 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group chief enlisted manager. “WSEP tests the effectiveness of their daily regime by injecting a deployed environment and live munitions. This is often the first time maintainers get a chance to load a live-munition onto their aircraft and the first time aircrew experience launching a missile at a threat representative, maneuvering target. This is strategic deterrence in the region that needs it most.” Nine live missiles were fired during the exercise, all by first-time shooters to include the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile along with the AIM-9X Sidewinder. Additionally, pilots had the opportunity to shoot the F-35A’s 25mm cannon for the first time against a QF-16-towed Aerial Target Gunnery System. An F-35 Lightning II pilot assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, climbs into the cockpit at Tyndall AFB, Fla., Oct. 15, 2021. The 356th Fighter Squadron participated in a Weapons System Evaluation Program, where units are tested on their air-to-air combat capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res An F-35 Lightning II assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, taxis at Tyndall AFB, Fla., Oct. 15, 2021. The 356th Fighter Squadron participated in a Weapons System Evaluation Program, hosted by the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group, where units are tested on air-to-air combat capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res F-35 Lightning IIs assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, taxi in preparation for takeoff at Tyndall AFB, Fla., Oct. 15, 2021. The 356th Fighter Squadron participated in the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group’s Weapons System Evaluation Program, an exercise held regularly to evaluate units on combat capabilities during air-to-air operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price) Photo Details / Download Hi-Res “All of this realistic training is evaluated by a hand-picked mix of experienced aircrew and maintainers empowered to commend and critique exercise participants,” Grabham said. “We compile missile-fire data from our newest platform (F-35A) with our latest missile variants and software, which helps refine tactical application of the weapons system, uncovers any issues with the platform/missile interface, and eventually feeds Air Force doctrine.” The 53rd WEG operates a fleet of subscale aerial targets along with the only full-scale, threat-representative targets in the Department of Defense. These assets, coupled with the expansive airspace managed by the Eglin Test and Training Range, enable both short and long-range missile shots. WSEP events provide invaluable training to maintenance and aircrew members. The next event will combine WSEP East 22.02 with exercise Checkered Flag 22-1, which is slated to take place Nov. 8-19 at Tyndall AFB.