509th Weapons Squadron conducts threats and tactics training, prepares Airmen for tomorrow's fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stassney Davis
  • 509th Weapons Squadron

For the past six decades, the KC-135 Stratotanker has been instrumental in pushing the limits of all other airframes. Without the vital range provided by this platform, fighters, bombers and other aircraft would not get to their target or stay in the air long enough to complete the mission.

The 509th Weapons Squadron consists of an elite team of experts who teach the next generation how to effectively pilot the aircraft in extreme situations. On Feb. 2, 2023, students of the 509th WPS conducted their first flight during the threats and tactics phase in a six-month training course.

The 509th WPS mission is to provide the world's most advanced training in weapons and tactics employments to KC-135 Stratotanker pilots, navigators and enlisted in-flight refueling specialists. Weapons School graduates are experts in the tactical employment, planning, and execution of integrated air and space power.

Twice a year, six instructor pilots, navigators and three boom operators are hand-selected for the grueling training process to achieve graduate-level status.

“Students conducted air refueling flights with simulated receivers as part of the threats and tactics phase of the syllabus," said Lt. Col Ian Shelley, 509th WPS commander. “During the threats and tactics phase, students are challenged to solve near-peer air-to-air threats and accomplish appropriate reactions to those threats while applying tactics to ensure they can provide fuel to simulated receivers”

Throughout their six months of training, students are required to log over 400 flight hours, complete 15 flying missions and multiple ground missions to ensure they are prepared at any moment for any potential threat posed by adversaries. 

“509th WPS training is important because it teaches our students how to react to our pacing threat,” said Maj Patrick Kilbane, 509th WPS instructor. “The sorties provide firsthand exposure of combat formation maneuvers while maintaining an acceptable level of risk”

The 509th WPS is one of 21 weapons squadrons that fall under the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and is the only weapons school for the KC-135. While this platform was not designed for direct warfare, the men and women who have operated it have pushed the limits of what the airframe was designed to do.

“Our weapon is fuel. The Air Force demands experts who know how to plan and use this resource effectively to our strategic advantage,” said Lt. Col Matt Bowers, former 509th WPS commander in a commentary article in 2012. “The 509th WPS graduates are the experts in planning, briefing, and execution of all operations requiring air refueling.”

The weapons squadrons train their students their particular role in each of the Air Force’s five core missions including air superiority, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, nuclear deterrence, rapid global mobility, command and control, and even concepts like agile combat employment. 

“We produce tier one patches, graduates that return ready to lead and prepare their squadron for combat,” said Shelley. “We are the instructors creating instructors to ready their units for deployments for future combat operations.”

Training for the 509th WPS is designed to prepare Airmen to analyze and apply appropriate tactics to possible pacing threats, and ensure they are ready for tomorrow’s fight anytime, anywhere.