More than 700 Air Force and Air National Guard personnel are sharpening their skills with Air Force ordnance through Wednesday in Combat Hammer, the Air Force’s twice-yearly assessment of its bombs and other munitions at Eglin Air Force Base.

Combat Hammer is “a chance to drop everything in the Air Force arsenal,” said Lt. Col. Tapan Sen, commander of the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron, who is overseeing the weapons evaluation.

The latest edition of Combat Hammer began Nov. 1, and after a weekend break, is continuing this week.

Each morning during that time, from 8 a.m. until noon, fighter aircraft will release munitions in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 20 nautical miles south of Destin.

During the afternoons, approximately 30 boats traveling in formation will traverse Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to be used as visual targets by military aircraft. No weapons or ammunition will be used in connection with the boat formation, which will serve as training for handling a “swarm attack” of numerous smaller boats on a larger vessel.

The benefits of Combat Hammer are twofold, Sen said, explaining that it allows pilots to gain experience with how their aircraft will handle with various munitions on board, while also allowing the Air Force to determine whether that ordnance is performing as military contractors have promised.

Broadly, Sen said, Combat Hammer is designed to help ensure that “we hit the right target at the right time.”

Combat Hammer is serious business for all of the personnel involved, according to Sen.

“They treat it like they’re going into combat,” he said.

Munitions dropped during Combat Hammer – some are live, others are not – are equipped with an array of monitoring equipment to ensure they are performing as advertised, Sen explained.

Eglin’s 96th Range Control Squadron will gather data from the aircraft, weapons, targets and other range sensors to give engineers real-time data on the performance of the weapons systems under evaluation.

Any problems noted with munitions during Combat Hammer are addressed with the responsible contractors. Rarely, though, are there ever any major problems with tested munitions, Sen said.

“Everything we get is pretty much 90 percent,” he said, and contractors will respond to requests for any tweaking of ordnance performance that might be needed.

Conducted by Eglin’s 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group with the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron taking the lead, this year’s Combat Hammer includes F-22 Raptor jets from the 94th Fighter Squadron at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 55th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and A-10 Thunderbolt close air support jets from the 75th Fighter Squadron at Georgia’s Moody Air Force Base.

A number of Air National Guard units from Texas, New York, Iowa, Ohio, California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and North Dakota will fly MQ-9 Reaper drones as part of Operation Hammer.

This is the third year that drones, operated out of Eglin’s Duke Field near Crestview, have been part of Combat Hammer, according to Sen.

The unmanned aircraft “are a huge part of our fight,” he said.

In addition to its military benefits, Combat Hammer provides an economic boost to the area.

Capt. Travis Ream of the Kitchen Pass, a 33-foot charter boat in Destin, is among the local business people to see that boost.

Ream’s boat is contracted by the military to serve a couple of roles in Combat Hammer. In the mornings, he heads into the Gulf of Mexico to help keep other boats out of the areas where Combat Hammer is underway, and in the afternoons, he steers Kitchen Pass into Choctawhatchee Bay, carrying a variety of people – Eglin personnel, spouses of Combat Hammer participants and others – to observe the action.

Ream figures the Combat Hammer revenue into his business plans each year, he said.

This year, in the wake of the weather-impeded month-long Destin Fishing Rodeo, the Combat Hammer work is particularly welcome, Ream said Friday afternoon as he got ready to head to the bay.

For the month of October, Ream said, he took “a 40 percent hit on business.”

Having the Combat Hammer contract “doesn’t hurt,” Ream said.

“We’re fortunate to have it, for sure,” he said.