125th Fighter Wing weapons and tactics are “outta” hand

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. William Buchanan
  • 125th Fighter Wing

Maj. Kevin Hand is the Chief Weapons and Tactics Officer for the 159th Fighter Squadron. He trains pilots how to train other pilots. He also just got back from Air Force Weapons School where he learned the latest tactics in air combat. 

I talked to Hand about those tactics, as well as his upcoming opportunity to attend yet another coveted pilot school. A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.

What does the Chief of Weapons do? 
My job is primarily responsible to get the pilots ready to go to war wherever that’s going to be. We just got sent out the door on a deployment, so the previous weapons officer got the guys trained and ready to go. I’m going to go meet them in a couple of weeks. 

My primary role is teaching the pilots and getting them ready for war, essentially. My other role is the Primary Instructor. I’m the liaison that’s taught at the weapons school in the newest tactics that I bring back and I teach to the other instructors who then teach to all the rest of the pilots. I’m the instructor to the instructors. 

What is Weapons School? 
Weapons School is a five-and-a-half-month course taught at Nellis AFB. There, they teach the basics of instructorship, and then they develop into, “Here’s how to teach others how to teach.” That’s a big focus of Weapons School. 

The other part of the school is teaching integration. Not just the F-15, which we fly here, but all the other assets the Air Force has. 

We culminate in the last month of the course to work with everybody from the F-16s, F-22s, F-35s, cyber, space, and we incorporate it all into a giant package. It’s not just F-15s going to war, because that’s not how we operate; it’s the Air Force going to war. 

We get taught everyone else’s capabilities so we know what other platforms bring to the fight. I can teach our people how to integrate with these other platforms. Here’s how we can use their capabilities and advantages to supplement what we don’t have.

What was something you learned that would be a great asset to bring back to the 125FW? 
The last course is called “integration.” We take all these guys who are now experts in their platforms and we bring them together to make these big mission planning cells. The mission I was on we planned for four days before we flew it, and we only flew it for three hours. Then, we debriefed it the next day. So it’s a big process. It’s taking big picture planning and translating it into small-unit tactics. 

That’s really the biggest takeaway: being able to make that translation most effectively. Taking four days worth of work and condensing it so I can tell my wingmen here are the big picture things you need to know in order to protect who we’re supposed to protect in this mission...and essentially not die in the process. 

How would you describe Weapons School to someone who has never heard of it? 
It’s where they teach you to be the instructor to the instructors. The first two-thirds is how to become the expert in your platform. The last third goes into the capabilities the rest of the military has to offer and how to incorporate everyone’s capabilities to make the most effective mission you can. 

Did you ever hear of Top Gun? They made a movie about it. I don’t want to say this is the Air Force equivalent, because they’re different, but it’s the same kind of concept. 

What inspired you to apply? 
The training you get there is unparalleled. We can go out and fly here [in Jacksonville] everyday, but we’re limited on the amount of jets we can get. We’re limited on who we can fly with. Over there [at Weapons School], they just have everything. The full capabilities of the Air Force are there for you to integrate, learn about, and then come back here so you can teach it. 

And they give you this patch when you graduate. Shows patch. That’s brand new, that’s why it’s so shiny. 

You graduated Weapons School in June. What’s next on the horizon? 
I’m deploying here in the next couple of weeks. Our pilots are flying combat missions overseas right now. I’m supposed to go meet them in the fight. That is one of the big reasons the unit pushed for me to get into this class now, because of this deployment, to bring the latest and greatest tactics to the squadron overseas. 

You’ll be deployed for a few months, but someone also said you were also selected to be a Test Pilot. 
Yes, so that’s after. I applied and was selected for Test Pilot school, which starts in January [2020]. 

What is Test Pilot School? 
It’s a whole different focus of flying. When we’re flying the aircraft here, we’re pushing it to the limits. We’re using the tactics that are available to us and that the aircraft is capable of. At Test Pilot School, you find out what those limits are. It is not a tactical school. It is school on how to create a platform basically from scratch, make sure it’s safe to fly, and find out what those safe parameters are so you can pass those to the warfighters. 

You’re working with the...I don’t want to say the “nerdy” side of it...but you’re dealing with the nerdy side of it. You’re dealing with the engineers. You’re dealing with theoreticals. You’re writing the specs for the system, sensor, missile or whatever variety of platform. Then, as a test pilot, you make sure it meets those specs, and if they do, make sure it’s safe to fly. 

What benefits will the Florida Air National Guard see from your attending Test Pilot School? 
Specifically dealing with the F-15, it’s a very old aircraft. Our newest jet was built in 1986. Our oldest was 1978. Those are the aircraft we’re flying. When we’re dealing with old aircraft, and you’re looking at newer platforms, you want someone familiar with how to employ it or at least knows the background of how it’s designed. 

That’s where the test pilot comes into play. I will have the experience with these newer platforms on the cutting edge long before it gets to the warfighter. If you get a guy who’s nerding up on the beeps and squeaks, which is what they teach at Test Pilot school, that then gets to the warfighter who takes those beeps and squeaks and turns them into tactics.

So, to have someone who’s gone to both [Weapons School and Test Pilot School] is a huge benefit, I think, not only to the Florida Air National Guard, but to the Air Force. That’s a pilot developing future systems with a solid understanding of the tactical background. 

Is there anything I didn’t ask you would like to say? 

The only other thing I would like to add is that Test Pilot school, typically, isn’t a program open to Guardsmen. They only opened it up last year, and I’m the first Guardsmen to go in...a long time. I don’t remember the last one they did. And so it’s kind of a new process for how the Air Force is going to use an Air National Guard Test Pilot. 

I’m trying to answer the question of what I’m bringing back to Florida, but nobody really knows because it’s brand new. A new program. A new opportunity.