Barnes Airmen, F-15 fighter jets headed to weapons system exercise

Exercise happening at Tyndall Air Force Base

FILE photo: F-15

WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Eight F-15 Eagle jets and more than 150 Airmen leave Barnes Air National Guard Base Friday for a month-long weapons system exercise in Florida.

According to a release sent to 22News from the 104th Fighter Wing, the Weapons System Evaluation Exercise will allow F-15 pilots to train with live missiles and practice realistic air combat scenarios. The jets will be meeting up with fighters from Florida and heading about 200 miles off the coast into the Gulf of Mexico to practice firing their weapons.

“Any future combat scenarios will be joint or coalition operations and so it is very important for us to have the opportunity to train outside of our own comfort zone,” Maj. Brett VanderPas said. “It is very possible in any future combat operations we would be fighting alongside other countries and other types of aircraft and you never want the first time to be in combat. It is invaluable training we do not get very often back home.”

They’ll be working with F-22s, T-38s, F-35s, and Canadian F-18s during the exercise. The pilots will be shooting at either small drones or unmanned F-16 fighters that are remotely controlled.

Weapons and maintenance crews from Barnes will participate in the exercise on the ground. There, they will prepare the jets for flight and evaluate every missile sequence.

“There are a lot of things that need to happen for a missile to come off the airplane and hit the target we intend for it to hit,” Col. Tom Bladen of Barnes A.N.G. said. “So the opportunity to test the airplane and the pilot, God forbid we have to do this in actual combat, is something that is very valuable.”

Part of the 104th Fighter Wing’s mission is to provide armed F-15 fighters to protect the Northeast from any airborne threat. The wing at Barnes is responsible for protecting a quarter of the nation’s population.