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Weapons, tactics conference puts warfighters' needs in focus

An Air Force pilot enters the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC) in Tucson, Ariz., Oct. 21 where 30 Air Guard and Reserve weapons system working groups with nearly 1,200 Airmen are meeting for their annual Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) this week. WEPTAC provides a platform for the combat-experienced Airmen to voice their tactical and weapons needs for the comming year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

An Air Force pilot enters the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC) in Tucson, Ariz., Oct. 21 where 30 Air Guard and Reserve weapons system working groups with nearly 1,200 Airmen are meeting for their annual Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) this week. WEPTAC provides a platform for the combat-experienced Airmen to voice their tactical and weapons needs for the comming year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Nearly 1,200 Air Force warfighters are meeting here this week in 30 working groups on Air Force weapons systems to decide on what's needed to succeed in future battles and missions.

This year's Air Guard and Reserve Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) is the biggest ever, said Air Force Col. Jon K. Mott, commander of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC) in Tucson.

The AATC hosts the conference each year with support from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the Arizona Air Guard's 162nd Fighter Wing.

The growth of WEPTAC, said Mott, is from an expansion of integrated combat missions between the active duty Air Force, Air Guard and Air Force Reserve, including space and cyber-space missions and other developing missions.

"All of those warfighters have requirements, too," he said. "They are now involved in the fight."

He added that WEPTAC continues to provide experienced warfighters the platform to "voice their requirements" for the year and to get them prioritized and published. "It's a way to ensure the Air Guard and Reserve's weapons systems stay modernized and relevant," he said.

In the past, Mott remembers chairing an A-10 Warthog attack aircraft working group as a weapons officer from the Massachusetts Air Guard.

"It's a great opportunity," he said.

WEPTAC is now so successful that the Air Guard developed a similar conference for its domestic operations, called the Domestic Operations 10 Essential Requirements (DOERS).

Mott said WEPTAC is also an opportunity for Guard, Reserve and active duty Airmen to coordinate a shared mission need, outside the "stove-pipe" of one weapons system.

For example, "the HH-60 [helicopter] Airmen, the A-10 [attack aircraft] Airmen and the PJs (pararescuemen) meet for their individual weapons systems and then for a mission area, where they all sit down and say 'hey, we as a community in this mission area need this type of modernization and this type of equipment,'" said Mott.

The byproducts of WEPTAC are a Tactics Improvement Proposal and a Research, Development and Acquisitions book, which is a critical list that's developed and prioritized here by the combat-experienced warfighters, as, Mott said, "the five most important, critical things that they need." Mission area discussion and coordination is also considered a "valuable" byproduct.

As Air Force warfighters, busy with day-to-day operations, deployments and inspections, Mott said they rarely get to sit down and talk with their wingmen at different states and commands.

At the HC/MC-130 Hercules aircraft working group, Maj. Jeremy White from the Alaska Air Guard's 211th Rescue Squadron, chaired the discussions on those aircraft, which are specially equipped for refueling combat search -and -rescue missions and/or supporting special operations.

"We are basically talking about requirements we need to make us more capable," he said. "The biggest things that we are trying to do is determine what we need now to keep us operating in the war and what things we need in the future to keep moving forward."

For example, White said some of the older aircraft in their fleet are nearing the end of their useful life spans. So the newest J-model Hercules aircraft was "a big topic of discussion."

"I'm trying to get the right person, talking about the right subjects, that's my job," said White. "And I'm also trying to get the right people in the room to converse, so by the end of the week we come up with good solutions."

There were nearly 31 Guard and Reserve warfighters facilitating that working group, all having a lot of experience and knowledge on the HC/MC-130.

White's group then joined working groups from the HH-60 Pave Hawk combat search -and -rescue helicopter and ground Airmen to confer, develop and integrate their solutions in shared missions.

A good example is in data links, said White. "If we all talk together on [shared] missions, then we have to ensure what we [ask for] here works across those platforms."

Defense industry representatives also hosted an "Industry Days" display of their weapons and wares nearby. A few of those representatives attended weapons system working groups.

"They (warfighters) all sit down with the defense industry to see what they have available and to take that and coalesce it into a useful product so that we can push forward in the next year." said Mott.

WEPTAC is often called the "voice of the war fighter," and Mott said that popular phrase means the voice of "iron" captains and majors and "iron" staff sergeants and technical sergeants or those Airmen involved in combat operations. "They say what they think is the most important here," he said.

White agreed that their weeklong efforts are an important voice.

"I certainly think so," White said. "Something must occur where we get all the users in the know out there, those who are using the equipment every day in touch with the higher-up's in our chain of command, as far as procuring the monies, the contracts and the equipment. They need to hear from us and know what we are seeing on a day-to-day basis."

These thousand warfighters have one, weeklong goal to prepare a polished "out-brief" for the Director of the Air Guard, Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt III, and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner Jr. They, in turn, will use the information along with DoD and elected officials to make decisions that support and defend the nation and its allies.

"This is their one opportunity during the year to hear what warfighters have to say on what's needed for combat as part of the total force," said Mott.