Every six months the United States Air Force (USAF) holds a Weapons School graduation exercise, known as the Mission Employment Phase. Units from the USAF and United States Navy (USN) join for the two week long exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). AeroResource’s Mark Forest visited Nellis AFB during December 2012’s ME to find out more about the Weapons School and the participating units.

USAF Weapons School

18 squadrons make up todays USAF Weapons School (assigned to the 57th Wing, and headquarted at Nellis AFB), which teaches 24 instructor courses, in some 30 combat specialities at eight locations around the United States at a graduate-level. These courses provide advanced training to officers in combat and mobility air forces in the area of tactics, weapons employment and battle-space dominance, both in the air and on the land, but also covering space and cyber domains to reflect the increasing global reliance on computers. In early 2012 a brand new instructor course was introduced to the Weapons School in the field of Cyber Weapons. Taught by the 328th Weapons Squadron this was the first Cyber Weapons instructor course to be held, which saw eight students graduate at the beginning of June 2012.

Fully qualified instructors are chosen from a central selection board, and if selected, they then go on to join a six month course. During this course they will receive in excess of 400 hours of graduate-level academics and be required to participate in many demanding combat missions. Over the course of the six months the students will train to become tactical experts in their combat speciality and also learn the art of battle dominance. Weapons School students not only train in their given field but integrate on other weapons platforms and systems through their career path, enabling them to work with all USAF and Department of Defence (DOD) assets.

Weapons School Units

Nellis based units

8 WPS-Command and Control, 16 WPS-F-16, 17 WPS-F-15E, 19 WPS-Intelligence, 26 WPS-MQ-1/MQ-9, 34 WPS-HH-60, 57 WPSS Operational Support, 66 WPS-A-10, 315 WPS-ICBM, 328 WPS-Space/Cyber, 433 WPS-F15C/F-22

Non based units

14 WPS-AC-130/MC-130/UC-28  Hurlburt Field AFB Florida, 29 WPS-C-130  Little Rock AFB Arkansas, 57 WPS-C-17  McGuire JB  New Jersey, 77 WPS-B-1  Dyess AFB Texas, 325 WPS-B-2  Whiteman AFB Missouri, 340 WPS-B-52  Barksdale AFB Louisiana, 509 WPS-KC-135  Fairchild AFB Washington State.

Mission Employment Phase

At the climax of the Weapons School course and after nearly six months of training the students enter the final exam: a two week long staged battle known as Mission Employment – ME. The exercise is run day and night with most airborne missions being staged at night. All diverse battle scenarios are held over the NTTR and students demonstrate their ability to manage a battle with a wide selection of integrated weapons systems. ME provides extremely difficult tactical problems and each student will have to deal with multiple parallel tasks; overcoming air threats, executing targeting, supporting ground forces with close air support, as well as working with special forces units providing combat search and rescue missions. At the end of exercise some 90-110 students pass the graduation course to become Weapons Officers. They return back to their respective squadrons and become weapons and tactics officers. This graduation allows the men and women to lead combat missions around the world and have the ability to overcome any threat scenario put in front of them.

Throughout the two weeks of Mission Employment, ground support crew work tirelessly around the clock to keep the aircraft maintained, serviced, armed and fully fueled ready for the student’s next combat mission. Each day and night of the exercise, over 90 based and visiting aircraft take to the sky to fly combat sorties over the North Nevada ranges as part of ME.

As well as the based units of A-10s, F-15s, F-16s, F-22, and HH-60s taking part, Nellis also hosted many visiting units from the USAF, US Army and USN. Taking part in the ME in December 2012, were the following:

B-1B x3 Dyess AFB, B-52H x3 Barksdale AFB, C-12D x2 US Army, MC-12W x1 USAF, C-17 x3 McCord AFB,C-130H x1 Cheyenne ANGB, C-130H x1 Savannah ANGB,C-130J x1 Little Rock AFB, AC-130U x1 Hurlburt Field  AFB, EC-130H x1 Davis Monthan AFB, MC-130H x3 Hurlburt Field AFB, E-3B x1 Kadena AFB, E-8C x1 Warner Robbins AFB, EA-6B x3 NAS Whidbey Island, EA-18G x4 NAS Whidbey Island, EA-18G x2 NAS Fallon, F-15C x2 Eglin AFB, F-15D x1 Eglin AFB, KC-10A x1 McGuire JB, KC-135R x1 Fairchild AFB, KC-135R x1 MacDill AFB, KC-135R x2 McConnell AFB, RC-135W x1 Offutt AFB and UC-28 USAF.

On December 15th 2012 after the conclusion of ME 2012-2, Weapons School was proud to announce that the largest graduation class in the schools 63 year long history; Class 12B had graduated 106 new Weapons Officers.

AeroResource would like to thank the Public Affairs Office of Nellis AFB for all the time afforded and patience during the photo visits on base also the officers of the Weapons School for their help throughout the exercise, and finally their congratulations to all the students of Class 12B.