The FIGHTER WEAPONS SCHOOL of the USAF (FWC) is located at the Nellis AFB in Nevada and belongs to the 57th Wing (57th WG). Nowadays, the school teaches with nearly every type of aircraft in the inventory of the USAF, on nearly every aspect of air warfare. Every six months, the school graduates approximately 100 Weapons Officers and enlisted specialists who are tactical system experts, weapons instructors and leaders of Airmen. Members of the Weapons School cadre have served as advisors to the other U.S. and allied military services around the world. The school also authors the Weapons Review, the Air Force’s premier professional tactics publication.

The USAF Weapons School teaches graduate-level instructor courses that provide the world’s most advanced training in weapons and tactics employment. During the course, students receive an average of 400 hours of graduate-level academics and participate in demanding combat training missions. The goal of the course is to train students to be tactical experts in their combat specialty while also learning the art of battle-space dominance. This ability creates such a complete overmatch in combat power in any domain of conflict that adversaries have no choice but to submit or capitulate. Using an integrated approach means that Weapons School graduates are extensively familiar not only with the weapons platform or system they have been trained in through their career path, but also in how all USAF and DOD assets can be employed in concert to achieve synergistic effects. The culmination of the course is the Advanced Integration phase in which all assets combine in challenging scenarios simulating current and future threat arenas. Students demonstrate their ability to lead and instruct while effectively integrating multiple weapons systems across the land, air, space and cyber domains. Upon graduation, the new weapons officers return to the field to serve as unit weapons and tactics officers, leading combat missions and providing our Service’s senior leaders and decision makers tactical, operational and strategic impact support.

The Weapons School traces its roots to the Aircraft Gunnery School established in 1949 at Las Vegas Air Force Base, which later became Nellis AFB in 1950. This organization brought together a cadre of World War II combat veterans dedicated to teaching the next generation of pilots. The Gunnery School converted to combat crew training to meet the needs of the Korean War. In January 1954, the school assumed the mission of training fighter instructors and took on the title, “USAF Fighter Weapons School.” Students at Nellis trained in F-51, F-80, F-84 and all versions of the F-100 aircraft during this era. By 1960, the F-100 and the F-105 remained as the two primary aircraft flown at the School. In 1965, the Fighter Weapons School added the F-4 to its stable of thoroughbreds.

As the roles of fighter aircraft expanded during the Vietnam War, the vision and mission of Fighter Weapons School was essential to the application of airpower. Many of the air-to-ground and air-to-air innovations of this time can be attributed to the curriculum at Weapons School. One of the lessons of the Vietnam War was that it was difficult for a combat pilot to survive his first ten missions. This led to the implementation of the nowadays famous Red Flag exercises. Assigned aircraft continued to change in concert with Air Force inventories and technological advancements. The Weapons School deactivated the F-100 and F-105 courses and added the F-111 and A-7D. The Aggressors, flying the T-38 and F-5, were established as part of the School in the early 1970s to improve air-to-air skills by providing accurate threat replication for dissimilar air combat training. The A-7D tenure in the school was a brief three years, as the squadron transitioned from A-7s to F-5 Aggressors in 1975.

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Continued modernization saw the addition of the A-10 and the F-15A into Weapons School operations in 1977. The 1980s ushered in a time of significant change for the Weapons School. In 1981, the school underwent a complete reorganization as the squadrons became divisions. The Aggressor squadrons transferred to the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing. The F-111 Division became a geographically separated detachment of the Nellis-based Weapons School. The newly formed F-16 Division graduated its first students in 1982. In 1984, the Weapons School expanded its courses beyond the traditional fighter aircrew, adding a course to train weapons controllers in the F-15 Division. A passing of the torch to the current Weapons School occurred when the last F-4 class graduated in 1985, ending 20 years of F-4 weapons officer training. The Air Weapons Controller Division, later known as the Command and Control Operations, (CCO Division) activated as a separate unit in 1987. The school gained a Fighter Intelligence Officers Course in 1988, which became the graduate patch-awarding Intelligence Division in 1990. The F-15E Division became part of the school in 1991.

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With the stand-up of Air Combat Command in 1992, the school embarked on a dramatic shift from its 43-year focus exclusively on fighter aviation, dropping the “fighter” from its title and becoming the “United States Air Force Weapons School” (USAFWC). The change was much more than symbolic with the activation of the B-52 and B-1 Divisions that year. Rescue helicopters joined the school with the HH-60 Division in 1995 while the F-111 retired. That year also saw the addition of RC-135 and EC-130 courses to the CCO Division. To increase the graduate-level understanding of space and air integration for operators, the school added the Space Division in 1996. With a growing need for weapons officers skilled at integrating all aspects of land, air, space and cyber superiority, the Weapons School has continued to expand. The year 2000 saw the addition of the E-8 to the CCO Division as well as Special Operations Forces (SOF) instituting courses for the MH-53 and AC-130.

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Stealth technology joined the school in 2002 with the addition of the F-117 and B-2 Divisions. SOF added an MC-130 course that year as well. In 2003, all of the Weapons School divisions were re-designated as squadrons and the Intelligence Sensor Weapons Instructor Course was added to provide graduate-level training in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance integration. In 2006, the MH-53 and F-117 Weapons Instructor Courses deactivated and the merger with the Mobility Weapons School added the C-130, KC-135 and C-17 Weapons Instructor Courses. In 2008, the Weapons School added the F-22 and the MQ-1/9 Weapons Instructor Courses. In 2009, the school added the ICBM Weapons Instructor Course under the 328th Weapons Squadron.

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In 2012, ICBM was moved under the 315th Weapons Squadron and the Cyber Warfare Weapons Instructor Course was added to complement the Space course under the 328th Weapons Squadron. Also in 2012, the Joint Terminal Attack Controller Advanced Instructor Course began, which officially became a Weapons Instructor Course in 2015. An HC-130J Weapons Instructor Course is scheduled to begin in 2017, followed by an F-35A Weapons Instructor Course in 2018.

Today’s Weapons School encompasses 18 squadrons, teaching 25 Weapons Instructor Courses, two Advanced Enlisted Courses and 30 combat specialties at nine locations. The 67-year tradition of excellence associated with the USAF Weapons School continues as today’s graduates help transform and inspire our nation’s combat power.

Nellis-based units

8th Weapons Squadron, E-8C JSTARS/E-3/RC-135 RIVET JOINT
16th Weapons Squadron, F-16C/D Fighting Falcon and F-35A Lightning II
17th Weapons Squadron, F-15E Strike Eagle
26th Weapons Squadron, MQ-9
34th Weapons Squadron, HH-60 Pave Hawk
66th Weapons Squadron, A-10C
315th Weapons Squadron, Minuteman III
433rd Weapons Squadron, F-15C Eagle, F-22A Raptor

Geographically separated units

14th Weapons Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, Special Operations Aircraft (Various)
29th Weapons Squadron, Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, C-130 Hercules
57th Weapons Squadron, McGuire AFB, New Jersey, C-17 Globemaster III
77th Weapons Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas, B-1 Lancer
325th Weapons Squadron, Whiteman AFB, Missouri, B-2 Spirit
340th Weapons Squadron, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, B-52 Stratofortress
509th Weapons Squadron, Fairchild AFB, Washington, KC-135 Stratotanker

I would like to thank the great team of the Nellis PAO for all their patience and help. Without your understanding and support these pictures wouldn’t be possible. I also had to admit, that large parts of this article came from the Nellis webside (, which provides excellent and accurate information.

Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

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