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JDAM Drops Improve Warfighter Training At Rattlesnake Range

  • Published
  • By A. Danielle Thomas
  • Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center
The Camp Shelby Air-to-Ground Range can now accommodate an important component of realistic war fighter training it previously lacked. In March 2021, for the first time, inert Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs were dropped at the range including Guided Bomb Unit (GBU) 31s and 38s. Range Operations Officer, Lt. Col. Doug Harwell says for decades the range, also known as the Rattlesnake Range, remained a relic of the Vietnam War era when it comes to meeting the war fighter training requirements. The Perry County site had long been not been suited for fourth generation aircraft like the F-16 and F-18.   

“They progressed in capability that exceeded the Rattlesnake’s ability to support some of their standoff weapons such as GBU 31 and 38 which is a JDAM joint direct attack munition,” said Harwell. “We’ve never been able to drop that munition on our range. Laser guided and GPS guided bombs are the present and the future. If we cannot support those types of munitions and those weapons on our range then we start losing our relevance to the warfighter.” 

The Montgomery-based 187th Fighter Wing also had a vested interest in seeing the Rattlesnake Range step into the future. Rattlesnake is the 187th FW’s primary training range, but the F-16 pilots fly elsewhere to be able to drop GPS guided munitions.   

“We would have to go to a different range, Avon Park down in Florida. That involved taking off out of Montgomery, flying down there, and dropping,” said Maj. Don “JAB” Roney, 187th Fighter Wing. “Most of the time we would to land at MacDill Air Force Base, stop, fuel, then come back home.”

Roney, who is a flight instructor for the 100th Fighter Squadron, spent weeks on orders at the Rattlesnake Range. He worked alongside Rattlesnake personnel to strategize on how to safety drop the JDAMs with minimal effect on the surrounding area. Once they calculated a weapons danger zone using computer software, the Airmen set up meetings with the leadership of Camp Shelby Joint Force Training Center, the Unites States Forestry Service and a private oil drilling company.

“We created a weapon danger zone footprint and saw who all it was going to impact,” said Harwell. “We created risk mitigation factors and then we went and presented it to the Army and the U.S. Forest Service and Petro Harvester. Between the four of us, we sat down and came to an agreement of how we could safely and efficiently do this so that it allows the war fighter the chance to get the training they need while minimally impacting the public.”

That’s when the grunt work began. Rattlesnake Range Airmen spent countless hours moving dirt, building target sets, paving new target areas, setting up CONEX boxes, Humvees and everything else needed to accommodate the types of attacks that a war fighter in training wants to accomplish.

”They got out there with a compass and aligned a half mile of target sets to align with the attack axis that Montgomery wanted,” Harwell said. “Then they go out there and carry the shipping container boxes and build out a simulated village to create an urban scenario.“

In early March, Roney got the honor to fly in the first sortie to drop both a GBU 38 and 31 on Rattlesnake. He says the feeling of flying while carrying 4,000 pounds of munitions isn’t an experience that simulations can replicate.

“It changes how the F-16 or any airplane for that matter will operate. More sluggish with extra weight and drag,” said Roney. “You hit the pickle button and you literally feel the jet jerk when a 2,000 pound bomb comes off. You realize holy smokes there is a 2,000 pound piece of concrete and steel that is going through the air. There’s nothing like that to really sharpen your skills and build confidence at the same time when you actually see the target get hit.”

The cost savings in being able to drop JDAMs at Rattlesnake Range comes as the 187th Fighter Wing prepares to transition to the F-35 in 2023.

“To be able to drop the munitions is important. The JDAM is kind of like the bread and butter of F35," said Roney. "Having a range close to be able to do this means preparing us better because we will be able to drop more often. Preparing us for war and preparing us to go down range."

“This capability now puts Mississippi among the states that can accomplish fuel spectrum training when it comes to dropping this munition,” Harwell said. “A lot ranges cannot accommodate the JDAM and now that we can it just ups our relevance. So even though we don’t have the biggest range in the world, we’re able to fit this training capability onto the range. It gets the warfighter into the parameters that are as close as possible to real world so it gives them a more realistic look.”

Harwell added, “Today’s success is the result of building a team with the right people and giving them the freedom to create solutions to what was thought to be an impossible task.”