Loading F-16s with lethal firepower

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By Senior Airman Derek VanHorn, 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs / Published July 09, 2014


The phones in Staff Sgt. Joshua Talbot's office ring often, but that's expected - he man’s four of them every shift.

As a munitions controller with the 35th Maintenance Squadron, he receives dozens of calls every day, while waiting for one that's arguably more important than the rest. It's the call that delivers the 35th Fighter Wing's flying schedule and triggers a process that turns Misawa Air Base's F-16 Fighting Falcons from demonstration aircraft into warfighting machines.

"Once we find out what mission sets our pilots are flying, we immediately determine what munitions we need for the aircraft," Talbot said.

Working at munitions control and with a virtual 360-degree view of flying operations, Talbot kicks off a complex process that ammo troops have mastered through countless sortie preparations. He calls a handful of shops that spring into action to prep Misawa's fleet of F-16s with a variety of potentially devastating munitions.

On the end of one of those first calls is Staff Sgt. Eduardo Hernandez, a precision guided munitions, or PGMs, crew chief. He works in a section of about 25 Airmen who specialize in missiles.

"As soon as we get notified, we start sending out missiles," Hernandez said.

His shop handles a variety of them, including the AGM-88 HARM, or high-speed anti-radiation missile, and the AIM-120 AMRAAM, or advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, both designed to seek and destroy enemy radar-equipped systems. The inventory also is equipped with AIM-9 Sidewinders -- supersonic, heat-seeking, air-to-air missiles.

Hernandez said the first move is tasking a driver and a partner to ride shotgun to retrieve the missiles from their igloos -- large, cellar-like storage units housing scores of ammo. Their overall collection is officially called the munitions storage area, but the ammo family simply calls it the "bomb dump."

Master Sgt. Michael Uncapher is responsible for maintaining the munitions storage area.

"Every munition must be serviceable, properly configured, accounted for, meet weight requirements and be stored and maintained properly," said Uncapher, the munitions accountable systems officer of the $257 million supply.

After picking up the necessary mission weapon sets scattered across ammo's expansive area, each missile and its transport trailer is meticulously inspected to ensure serviceability.

A few buildings away from the PGM crew are the conventional maintenance troops executing the same laborious process simultaneously, all supporting the delivery of airpower. The Airmen work mainly with munitions such as Mk-82 bombs, 20 mm Gatling gun munitions, and chaffs and flares.

"It gets busy," Hernandez said. "But we're always prepared to execute any mission requirement that comes our way."

Hernandez said a fully loaded combat F-16 carries almost 3,000 pounds of munitions. It's a bundle of bad news for adversaries, carefully giftwrapped by proud ammo troops.

"Our crews are committed to their jobs," he continued. "We know what the end result our hard work can produce."

Directed by Talbot back at munitions control, the crews efficiently traverse the flightline to deliver trailers of munitions to awaiting F-16s, bringing the lethal load in place.

An expediter, usually a weapons troop, will take over once ammo Airmen pass off their munitions -- a process regularly used for the many moving parts of a flying operation.

"Weapons, expediters, crew chiefs, the aircraft maintenance units -- we work with them all," Uncapher said. "We all rely on each other to make the mission happen."

After all weapons and munitions are delivered, it is protocol to inspect every munition that returns to the flightline before it's returned to its igloo. That is, of course, if they make it back.

"Seeing a jet come back empty ... there's really nothing in this world you can compare that to," Hernandez said. "There's a sense of relief knowing the pilot was able to do his or her job because we held up our end."

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