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509th Weapons School: Total Force Integrator

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Matt Bowers
  • 509th Weapons School Commander
The 509th Weapons Squadron mission is to provide the world's most advanced training in weapons and tactics employment to officers of the Air Force. Weapons School graduates are experts in the tactical employment, planning, and execution of integrated air and space power.

"Why is there a KC-135 Weapons School?" This is a common question I am asked as the commander of the 509th Weapons Squadron. Simply stated, the 509th WPS mission is to train the future air refueling experts for Air Mobility Command and the Air Force. Our weapons School graduates are experts in the tactical employment, operational planning, and execution of integrated air, space and cyber power. Our 2012 posture statement further points out that "In-flight aerial refueling is the linchpin to power projection at intercontinental distances." Our weapon is fuel and the Air Force demands experts who know how to plan and use this resource effectively. Operations such as the recent Odyssey Dawn over Libya become a pick-up game without professionals trained in the art of air, space and cyber dominance.

The 509th WPS is one of 18 weapons squadrons attached to the U.S. Air Force Weapons School located at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. under the 57th Wing. These squadrons host 23 weapons systems that train to unique capabilities. Every six months, these squadrons "patch" graduates who are experts in their particular domain; fighter, bomber, tanker, airlift, ICBM, RPA, Intelligence, cyber, etc. The key to training and one of the clear benefits of the USAFWS is the ability to integrate with these experts during the 23 week syllabus and final mission employment exercise over the Nellis training ranges. The USAF Weapons School is known as an advanced leadership school because of the complexities involved in planning large scale exercises and solving complex problems.

Over the last 50 years, the KC-135 community has transitioned from a strategic alert force to one of constant engagement in global operations. The tanker community of the Cold War was honed to sit alert and was always ready for immediate global strike. Until Desert Storm in 1990, the tanker force hadn't deployed in support of major combat operations since Vietnam. During Desert Storm, the Air Force showed off its precision air attack capability and the 24-hour air tasking order became our norm for operations. Lessons learned revealed that a corps of tanker experts was needed to build air refueling plans for any operation or contingency. The tanker weapons school started in 1999 as the KC-135 Combat Employment School here at Fairchild. The syllabus was modeled after the existing weapons schools at Nellis, but at that time the 509th was part of the Air Mobility Warfare Center. In 2003, the C-17s stood up the 57th WPS at McGuire AFB, N.J. to join the 509th along with the 29th WPS of C-130s already in existence at Little Rock AFB, Ark. At that time, all three squadrons wore Air Mobility Weapons School patches. In 2006, the Air Force Chief of Staff consolidated all weapons squadrons under the USAFWS which now report to the 57th Wing at Nellis. This is why the members of the 509th WPS wear the Air Combat Command patch.

Over the past decade, we've had graduates constantly involved in combat planning and operations around the globe. The Air Refueling Control Team Chief at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar is now required to be a graduate of our school. I served in that capacity only one year after graduating from class 03B. Other weapons officers have significantly contributed to planning and execution of Operation Unified Protector, Odyssey Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, etc. One tangible benefit of having the weapons school has been the creation of the KC-135 AFTTP 3-3. This is a consolidated document and primary reference for best practices in the KC-135 community. The document is an outstanding source of information for our new pilots as they learn the KC-135 mission. I wish the document had been available when I began my air refueling career.

The 509th Weapons School fits perfectly into the Team Fairchild's "mission first" attitude of building an unbeatable team and commitment to personal excellence. Those who choose the challenge of the school and earn the "patch" are truly capable of building a team prepared for any core functions the KC-135 supports: Air Superiority, Global Attack, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, Nuclear Deterrence, Rapid Mobility, Command and Control, Special Ops and Personnel Recovery. Weapons officers have chosen a path less traveled to become graduate level experts in their mission. Our training and the weapons officer's mindset positively enhance the "mission first" goal of any wing.

In six months of training, our weapons upgrade students receive graduate-level training in air refueling core competencies and learn to integrate and plan for joint operations. During the syllabus, the students go to Nellis three times and receive "core" classes with the rest of the USAFWS. They also go on TDYs for terminal approach tactics at Roswell N.M., participate in STRATCOM integration at Offutt AFB, Neb., certify in Special Operations Air Refueling at Hurlburt AFB, Fla. and perform an exercise with the B-2s at Whiteman AFB, Mo. As a capstone event, they plan and execute a Mission Employment Exercise from Nellis two weeks before graduation. Our weapons upgrade students become experts in planning, briefing, and execution or all operations requiring air refueling. Each class is a small but select group of navigators and pilots. Every six months a selection board is convened, and you must be an instructor pilot or navigator to apply. Our goal is to graduate six weapons officers every class.

The 509th Weapons Squadron and the 336th Training Group are both tenant units at Fairchild who prepare our Airmen for the challenges of tomorrow. As the rest of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing is on the front lines of the fight, these training units are reminders that we are part of an Air Force with awesome combat capability ready for any mission, anytime and anywhere. In order to forge a sharp blade and maintain our edge, we must educate the next generation of combat warriors - in this endeavor, we cannot fail and stand ready together to ensure the defense of our great nation.