The US Air Force’s (USAF) F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter has successfully completed the first operational air-to-ground weapons evaluation.

Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings supported and flew the aircraft during the weeklong evaluation exercise, known as Combat Hammer, which is one phase of the Weapons System Evaluation Program (WSEP).

The exercise was conducted to test and validate the performance of crews, pilots and their technology while deploying air-to-ground precision-guided munitions for the F-35A.

It also helps find potential issues in a controlled environment and ensure that the weapons continue to work as designed.

86th Fighter Weapons Squadron detachment commander lieutenant colonel Timothy Smith said: “Overall, everything went as planned and all participating units performed very well, including the 34th Fighter Squadron’s F-35s.”

"What air-to-air (Combat Archer) and air-to-ground WSEP bring to the fight is statistical confidence."

Eglin Air Force Base 53rd Wing commander colonel Dave Abba said the statistical data derived from Combat Hammer will provide understanding on the weapon systems performance and assist in making resourcing decisions.

Abba said: “What air-to-air (Combat Archer) and air-to-ground WSEP bring to the fight is statistical confidence.

“So that’s really the key to this: it’s not simply subjective opinions about whether these things work or whether they don’t work, we bring the numbers to back it up so we can tell our senior leadership with a certain degree of confidence that this airplane with this munition against this sort of a target is going to have this probability of success.”

The F-35A achieved initial operational capability last year and is now moving ahead towards full operational capability.

Image: An F-35A Lightning II aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off. Photo: courtesy of USAF/ photo by Paul Holcomb.