MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
The life-cycle of a munition can be easily explained—the building of the munition, transportation to the aircraft, loading to the aircraft, taking off of the aircraft, then finally putting the munition on target.
Although it sounds simple, ensuring safety, efficiency and effectiveness can prove itself as a far more extensive task.
During exercises Combat Archer and Hammer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, the 391st Fighter Squadron would test all facets of the process in a tempo more comparable to a deployment, starting with building the munition.
“The munitions come in several different pieces, we put them all together, load them up on the trailers, take them out to the load crew and they load them onto the aircraft,” said Airman First Class Jacob Caquelin, 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron conventional maintenance crew chief. “Whatever they want, we build it and send it out.”
Since the exercises test both roles of the F-15E Strike Eagle, air-to-air and air-to-ground, it would also test the 366th EMS Ammo Airmen’s ability to build both types of munitions to meet the demands.
Everything from 20mm ammunition to Guided Bomb Unit-10s passed through the hands of the Ammo Airmen during the exercise.
“Exercises are very important, it gets us back in the flow of ‘we need it done and we need it done now,’” he explained.
These exercises play a critical role for the Ammo troops by helping them get back to performing at a high rate, he explained.
After the munition is built, it’s transported to the flightline, where maintenance loads the munition to the aircraft.
Working with a live munition presents a countless number of inherent risks at all times during the loading process.
“Efficiency, speed, safety and reliability are the top priorities while here,” said Tech. Sgt. Douglas Fellows, 391st Fighter Squadron weapons load crew chief.
Exercises like Combat Archer and Hammer provide an opportunity for loaders to practice with these munitions, and then practice some more to assist with mitigating those risks.
“It’s very valuable to train in places like this, because we get a lot of repetitions of uploading and downloading live munitions that we don’t get to do back at home station,” Fellows explained.
With the munition loaded, it’s now ready for the aircrew to deploy.
As a weapons system officer Capt. Zachary Zimmerman, 391st Fighter Squadron flight commander, is the last hand on the munition before it deploys.
In his job, he controls the weapons systems on the aircraft and sights in on the projected targets.
He explained that exercises like Combat Archer and Hammer provide them the instant feedback of how a munition is going to perform when it comes off the jet.
“I know that maintenance and ammo, and all of our different units, are working together to get that weapons system to perform,” Zimmerman said. “I’m confident that when we hit the ‘pickle button’ in the jet that the weapon is going to come off and work exactly as advertised and that’s what we are out here to test.”
Once the munition has been routed through the entire chain and it meets the “end user”, it is ready to complete its final task – impact the target.
The execution of this process has proven itself effective time and time again.
While deployed, the 366th Fighter Wing’s fleet of F-15E Strike Eagles and its Airmen have proven themselves successful, with the past two deployments being record breaking.
“The (operation)-maintenance relationship and the coordination that happens between us is critical, not only in training or testing, but in combat operations as well,” said Lt. Col. Robert Olvis, 391st Fighter Squadron commander.