Airmen ace Combat Archer exercise

An F-15E Strike Eagle from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, fires a missile while participating in a training exercise during Combat Archer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 6, 2011. Throughout the exercise, the 389th Fighter Squadron fired 23 missiles with zero range-safety violations and the 389th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron was evaluated 218 separate times and also had zero discrepancies. (Courtesy photo)

An F-15E Strike Eagle from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, fires a missile while participating in a training exercise during Combat Archer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 6, 2011. Throughout the exercise, the 389th Fighter Squadron fired 23 missiles with zero range-safety violations and the 389th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron was evaluated 218 separate times and also had zero discrepancies. (Courtesy photo)

An F-15E Strike Eagle performs air-to-air maneuvers during a training mission Nov. 29, 2011, during Combat Archer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. More than 180 members of the 389th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, along with 12 F-15E Strike Eagles took part in the exercise. (Courtesy photo)

An F-15E Strike Eagle performs air-to-air maneuvers during a training mission Nov. 29, 2011, during Combat Archer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. More than 180 members of the 389th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, along with 12 F-15E Strike Eagles took part in the exercise. (Courtesy photo)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- More than 180 members from the 389th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit along with 12 F-15E Strike Eagles participated in Combat Archer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 28 to Dec. 9.

Combat Archer evaluates the total air-to-air weapon system capabilities of Air Force combat aircraft and is conducted by the base's 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group.
Airmen are evaluated on everything from flight operations to maintenance.

"Out of 218 individual evaluations, the WEG found zero discrepancies," said Master Sgt. Brandon Dunston, 389th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. "We scored a 100 percent in fire tests as well as performing quality and sound maintenance."

For pilots who normally fly with training weapons at home station, live-firing missiles at Combat Archer first instead of a real-world combat situation provides a confidence boost.

"Our main goal from the flight side was to get pilots comfortable firing live missiles, especially for those who have never ever done so," said Capt. Craig Sanders, 389th FS scheduler. "This was my first time live-firing and it was fantastic! This exercise was excellent because we were able to squeeze almost three months of proficiency training into a two-week timeframe."

According to Globalsecurity.org, Combat Archer is intended to allow pilots the opportunity to experience what they would see in combat. During standard training flights, pilots go through all the steps to fire a missile without actually firing one, so there's no way to clearly validate whether the shot would have hit the target.

"This was the first time in roughly nine months we were able to get training in air-to-air combat," said Sanders. "The training helped us adjust from our normal air-to-ground mindset and get comfortable firing live missiles."

Throughout the exercise the 389th FS T-Bolts fired 23 missiles with zero range-safety violations.

"I am extremely proud of my Airmen," said Dunston. "We just recently returned from Afghanistan doing primarily air-to-ground missions. Participating in Combat Archer helped us get ahead in our air-to-air training and was an extremely valuable opportunity."

This type of specialized training is especially important for MHAFB, which is part of Air Combat Command.

"Being a part of ACC means for the last 10 years we have been actively dropping bombs on targets," explained Sanders. "We have gotten extremely effective and efficient in air-to-ground combat and Combat Archer helps us to achieve those same standards in terms of air-to-air. It makes us rethink how we fly in terms of methods and tactics."

The exercise not only tests and evaluates Airmen but also aircraft system integrity.

"We also did the Electronic Warfare Program, where we have the defensive combat systems inside the aircraft checked to make sure they are functioning correctly," said Dunston. "We were 100 percent with these combat systems checks as well."

Many of the personnel who participated in Combat Archer were first-term Airmen.

"The majority of the Airmen who were brought down were brand new to the Air Force," said Dunston. "It was training inside of training basically. They were able to experience new things and reacted very well to the quicker pace."

Ultimately, Combat Archer showed one important thing to senior leaders from the 389th FS and AMU.

"This exercise showed me my weapons flight is 100 percent capable of loading missiles and firing them correctly, or loading guns onto aircraft and firing them accurately," said Dunston. "They are doing exactly what the Air Force is asking them to do, and Combat Archer proved it."