Gunsmoke: Revolutionized

0
193
Tech. Sgt. Justin Geiger, 66th Weapons School (WPS) Joint Terminal Attack Controller instructor, looks through a Type 163 Laser target designator on the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nev., May 15, 2019. JTACs used the laser to compete against each other to see who could most accurately drop inert bombs on a target during Gunsmoke. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)

U.S. Air Force Weapons School squadrons and various maintenance and special operations units competed in Gunsmoke at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., May 15.

The purpose of the legacy competition was to demonstrate the capabilities of both jet and conventional fighter aircraft accuracy in bombing and gunnery.

In May 1949, the base, then known as Las Vegas AFB, hosted the first U.S. Air Force Worldwide Fighter Gunnery Meet, later nicknamed “Gunsmoke.”

This air-to-air and air-to-ground competition was between teams representing major commands; Air Training Command, Tactical Air Command, and Strategic Air Command, as well as other fighter bases throughout the world.

Events within the competition at that time consisted of air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery, dive and skip bombing, and rocketry.

Master Sgt. Michael Macia, 66th Weapons Squadron (WPS) Joint Terminal Attack Controller instructor, unravels netting on the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nev., May 15, 2019. Aircraft participating in Gunsmoke used the netting to determine their targets while doing strafing runs. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)

Fast forward 70 years, and not only has technology advanced but so have military operations and capabilities. Though the overall Gunsmoke air-to-air and air-to-ground competition has remained the same, USAFWS opened up the contest to the 57th Maintenance Group and special operations forces.

“Gunsmoke has traditionally provided bragging rights through the years to pilots and crews through one-on-one aerial competitions,” said Col. Steven Behmer, USAFWS commandant. “We’ve adapted the event to incorporate our maintenance, munitions, and special ops Airmen to boost esprit de corps through integrated teamwork.”

Overall, the competition has not only incorporated multiple units and career fields but allowed instructors at USAFWS to get out and fly.

“[Gunsmoke] has recently been resurrected as a USAFWS competition mirroring [the original] construct,” said Maj. Daniel Hendren, instructor pilot, 17th Weapons Squadron.

Lt. Col. Lawrence Evert, U.S. Air Force Weapons School deputy commandant, grabs his flight bag prior to “stepping” to the aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., May 15, 2019. Ten squadrons within the U.S. Air Force Weapons School along with their associated aircraft maintenance units participated in the Gunsmoke competition. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Tabatha McCarthy)

The competition proved that effective teamwork is vital in order to meet mission requirements.

“Teamwork comes in the form of shared success and failure,” said Behmer. “This year, the competition will crown the best squadron and aircraft maintenance unit (AMU) based on how well they perform maintenance and operations. Ops cannot win without maintenance, nor the opposite.”

For most of the career fields participating in Gunsmoke, the competition gave them an opportunity to shine in their everyday operations.

“While we push ourselves for Gunsmoke, we operate daily at the same high level of excellence,” said Capt. Kyle Briney, officer in charge, 57th Tomahawk AMU.

Gunsmoke, nor any other Air Force mission, can rely on maintenance and pilots alone. In order to be a success, other career fields such as JTAC, Rescue Squadron, missileers, space operators, along with different AMU’s of a variety of aircraft came together to achieve the several mission objectives.

“[This competition] allows us as instructors to maximize what the aircraft is capable of,” said Tech Sgt. Justin Geiger, JTAC instructor, 66th Weapons Squadron.

Two F-35 Lightning II pilots prepare to taxi in advance of a Gunsmoke competition flight, 2019, in Las Vegas, Nev. Air Force Base, Nev., May 15, 2019. The Gunsmoke competition took place over the Nevada Test and Training Range, where pilots, maintenance, and special operations showed off their capabilities and techniques. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Tabatha McCarthy)

Geiger and his team’s objectives for the competition were to see how accurate they could be with ground-based lasing of inert GBU-12 bombs onto a specific target located on the range. They also provided situational awareness to the aircraft running the overall event in the sky, as well as what happening on the ground.

“Gunsmoke exercises maintainers’ abilities to deliver combat-ready aircraft on time, and challenges [ground] operators to timely and accurately employ weapons on targets with minimal time between target nomination and target destruction,” said Behmer.

Through competition, all players took away a more powerful meaning of teamwork to accomplish the mission.

“I think it has been largely successful in its effort to give USAFWS instructors a chance to compete against the best aircrews in the world,” said Hendren. “Any chance we get to work together and fly with each other is a good opportunity to become experts at integration.”
 

A 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Lightning Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, prepares to launch an F-35 Lightning II for the Gunsmoke competition at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. May 15, 2019. The Gunsmoke competition was a great opportunity for many career fields to participate and demonstrate their techniques and job skills. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Tabatha McCarthy)

 
Senior Airman Isaiah Hagans, 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Lightning Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, launches an F-35 Lightning II for the Gunsmoke competition at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. May 15, 2019. Gunsmoke goes back to 1949 when the Air Force held the first Worldwide Composite Force Meet, also known as Gunsmoke. The competition is still held today, revolutionized with new technologies and updated grading criteria to integrate maintenance and special operations units. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Tabatha McCarthy)

 
An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off for Gunsmoke with the Las Vegas skyline in the background at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., May 15, 2019. Various aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15E, F-15C Eagle, F-35 Lightning II, A-10 Thunderbolt II, and HH-60 helicopter competed in strafing runs at the Nellis Test and Training Range for the Gunsmoke competition. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Tabatha McCarthy)

 
An F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet assigned to Strike Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) shoots out flares during Gunsmoke over the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nev., May 15, 2019. Various aircraft including the F-15E, F-15C, F-35 Lightning II, F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt II and HH-60 helicopter competed in strafing runs for Gunsmoke. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie)