F-35s bombing

A pilot assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing's 34th Fighter Squadron drops a GBU-49 bomb from an F-35A Lightning II on Nov. 7. 2018 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — As Hill Air Force Base continues to ramp up F-35 combat operations, one of its fighter squadrons will soon begin dropping a new, powerful bomb out in Utah’s west desert.

Fresh off launching a record 35 simultaneous F-35 combat sorties earlier this week, pilots in the 388th Fighter Wing’s 34th Fighter Squadron will soon begin launching live and inert GBU-49 bombs — another large milestone in Hill’s quest toward full F-35 combat capability.

The GBU-49 is a laser and GPS guided bomb that can be used in a variety of conditions against many types of moving or stationary targets, according to a base press release.

Earlier this month, the 34th FS detonated the bomb during a weapons evaluation exercise at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, marking the first time the squadron has ever employed the GBU-49 in live F-35A combat training.

“It’s a really flexible weapon,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Johnston. “It was reliable, accurate, and effective. Like any new weapon, what we learned, and what we will learn as we continue to train with the GBU-49, will directly impact our tactics and will make the F-35A even more lethal.”

Base pilots had been practicing with the GBU-49 in simulator training at Hill prior to testing the live version at the Florida-based evaluation, which is known as “Combat Hammer.”

“In a normal Hammer, you’ve dropped these weapons a hundred times in live training and you’re validating the process,” said Lt. Col. Michael Albrecht, 388th Fighter Wing director of staff. “This was our first time with this particular weapon.”

When the bombs begin falling in Northern Utah later this year, they will land at an enhanced Utah Test and Training Range. A year ago, Congress approved a piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that enhanced the range by more than 625,000 acres.

The Air Force and the Department of Defense will be given authority to use land owned by the state of Utah or the Bureau of Land Management, to create “buffer zones” for range activities like bombing.

The new acreage includes eight pieces of land situated immediately outside the installation’s current boundary in rural Box Elder, Tooele and Juab counties.

Hill has the Air Force’s only combat mission ready F-35A units. Since the initial delivery of two jets in in late 2015, the base has been accepting one to two aircraft each month. Once the full fleet of 78 Lightning IIs is complete, which is expected sometime in 2019, the planes will be divided among three fighter squadrons.

Spread among the 388th and reserve 419 fighter wings, the base currently owns 47 F-35s.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mshaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer.

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