TUCSON, Ariz.: Airmen in the ranks of sergeant through lieutenant colonel, warfighters serving abroad and defending the homeland, gathered here Oct. 18 through Oct. 22 to tell Guard and Reserve senior leaders what they need to improve capability in the air reserve component, or ARC.

Their focus was on “Legacy Platforms, Future Fight,” this year’s theme at the Weapons and Tactics Conference, or WEPTAC, held at Tucson International Airport, home of conference hosts, the Air National Guard-Air Force Reserve Command Test Center, or AATC, and the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing.

Nearly 1,800 Guard and Reserve Airmen, representing every ARC weapon system, assembled to present leaders with the unvarnished, honest and direct input they need to translate funding into products and capabilities during the next few years.

“We bring in people from the field who know what is needed to make us better,” said Col. Richard Dennee, the AATC commander. “WEPTAC is pretty important for us. This is where we derive our requirements and how we want to secure them down the road.”

The week-long conference consisted of 28 working groups meeting to compile a list of needs for each airframe and weapon system. It concluded with group chairmen briefing their findings to Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt III, the director of the Air Guard, and to Daniel B. Ginsberg, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs.

“These are the people who have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan and have come back with learned lessons on what they need to do their job better,” Colonel Dennee said. “And we do see results. We see results as soon as six months after the conference or up to a couple of years later.”

Past WEPTACs produced clear goals for the Guard and Reserve. With input from the conference, test center pilots and engineers have helped ARC officials field new software, better communications systems and more lethal weapons.

And while bringing ideas to reality, AATC engineers find low-cost, highly-capable, off-the-shelf solutions.

One example at the center of attention was an early model F-16 Fighting Falcon equipped with the latest technology in precision weapons.

“We’re putting the newest weapons and latest LITENING targeting pods on the oldest aircraft in the inventory,” said Lt. Col. Todd Seger, the combined test force director for AATC. “We have small-weapons racks that carry four small-diameter bombs on each wing. This is the first time they’ve been integrated on the F-16 and we’ll begin testing them next month with hopes of getting them to the rest of the Guard and Reserve as soon as possible.”

WEPTAC helps AATC officials ensure they are prioritizing projects that are relevant to everyone, not just for the F-16, said Colonel Seger, so that Air Force mission is better served as a whole.

“It’s the best job in the world,” he said. “We get to use new aircraft weapons software, new pods, new weapons and produce capability that makes the warfighter safer and more lethal.”

In the personnel recovery arena, test center engineers applied input from the field to improve combat search and rescue operations.

They upgraded the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter with dual smart-color multi-function displays for pilots and co-pilots, replacing outdated monochrome displays.

The new touch-screen LCD displays are full color and offer an array of tools including moving maps, forward-looking infrared and a turret camera.

“It’s an awesome system,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Peterson, the CSAR program manager for AATC. “I can run a full-up situational awareness data link, I can link a helmet-mounted cueing display and I can access a full moving map, which makes it so easy.

“I used to fly with a (computer) on my lap and pass it back and forth with the co-pilot,” he said. “Now we both have linked displays that make everything safer and more efficient. We started fielding these in September (2009). In 12 months, we went from a concept to building these – that’s unheard of across the combat Air Force.”

For the Airmen who fly the most seasoned aircraft in the inventory, the need to keep up with the active duty’s newer platforms necessitates the bottom-up information flow offered by WEPTAC.

“We have a lot of the legacy platforms, and we have to keep them relevant for the future fight,” Colonel Dennee said. “Understanding the threat, the enemy and the new technologies out there for us, we’re working to take that new technology and modernize our airplanes to be the best that we can be.”