More, unfamiliar planes to be seen circulating skies around Hill AFB next week
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — For the next two weeks, if you happen to notice an abundance of unusual looking military aircraft flying though the Northern Utah skies, there’s likely no cause for alarm.
Micah Garbarino, spokesperson with Hill Air Force Base’s 388th Fighter Wing, said from March 9-18, the base will play host to a large-scale military combat exercise known as “WSEP West.” The acronym stands for the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program, a Department of Defense training that takes a microscope to some of the military’s bomb-dropping activities.
Most notably, Garbarino said a contingent of A-10C Thunderbolt IIs from the Maryland Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Squadron will be stationed at Hill for the duration of WSEP West. First introduced in the 1970s and nicknamed the “Warthog” due to it’s rugged look, the A-10 is often seen with a set of sharp teeth painted on its nose cone and can fly at very low speeds and altitudes compared to modern battle aircraft.
According to a Hill fact sheet, the plane can “loiter near battle areas for extended periods of time and … their wide combat radius and short takeoff and landing capability permit operations in and out of locations near front lines.”
Several other units will also participate in the exercise, Garbarino said, but will fly into the Utah Test and Training Range from off-station.
Garbarino said WSEP West is conducted by the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Hill, which is the only DOD agency that does battle damage analysis of precision guided air-to-ground munitions using real, operational weapons, aircraft, maintenance personnel and aircrew.
“(They) evaluate every aspect of air-to-ground weapons employment,” Garbarino said in a press release. “From building and loading munitions, to aircraft and pilot performance hitting targets on the UTTR.”
While, Garbarino said F-35’s from Hill’s 388th and 419th fighter wings are not participating in the exercise, those jets will be conducting normal flying operations, likely to be active from 8 a.m. to approximately 10 p.m. each weekday. Pilots from the two fighter wings are scheduled to conduct night flying operation through mid-April.
Situated in Utah’s West Desert, extending into eastern Nevada, the UTTR is the only place where the WSEP West training happens, Garbarino said. The range features the largest contiguous piece of “special use airspace” in the United States, according to a fact sheet from Hill. The facility has an annual operating budget of more than $30 million and has equipment and assets valued at about $1 billion.
Every year, the facility host hundreds of training and testing missions for the U.S. Air Force, Army and Marine Corps. The facility is used for everything from the disposal of explosive ordnance, to the testing of experimental military equipment.