Wes Kremer had every reason to be nervous. But he wasn’t.
It was November 1994, and NATO allies were carrying out an airstrike on the Udbina airfield in Croatia – the largest such operation in Europe since World War II. Kremer, a young U.S. Air Force officer, was in the rear seat of an F-15E Strike Eagle, protecting the aircraft from heavy fire and surface-to-air missiles.
The F-15E twisted and turned its way through the mission, but Kremer – on the first combat mission of his career – felt like he’d seen it all before. His training had been extensive and realistic, and he placed his trust in the aircraft’s systems.
“That’s what gives fighter aircrew the confidence to climb into a cockpit and fly – knowing they have a good jet, and that it’s equipped with weapons that offer a tactical advantage,” said Kremer, who would go on to fly more than 90 combat sorties in his 11-year Air Force career.
That experience now informs Kremer’s approach to his role as president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a Raytheon Technologies business.
Kremer leads 30,000 employees – including 15,000 engineers – across 30 U.S. states and 28 nations around the world, and he oversees a broad portfolio including air and missile defense systems, precision weapons, radars and command-and-control systems.
“Knowing the systems will work when you need them so you can do your job and come home safely – that’s what really epitomizes our mission,” Kremer said.
Kremer went into the Air Force wanting to be a fighter pilot. But his vision was less than perfect, so he scrapped his pilot training plans. Instead, he went to navigator school, became a weapon systems officer, and flew in both the F-111 Aardvark and the F-15E.
Climbing into the cockpit was exciting. His eyes still light up when he talks about it.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s very unforgiving...when you’re going a mile every seven seconds.”
Flying in a fighter aircraft is also rigorous. It takes hours of drills and preparation.
“A lot goes into getting mission ready in a combat unit, even in your everyday training sorties,” Kremer said. “Yes, the hour and a half that you’re airborne is absolutely spectacular, but there are two or three hours of preparation in advance and sometimes three or four hours of debriefing after a flight is over.”
And there are close calls. Kremer remembers one in particular during a training mission over Wales. He and his pilot were practicing ridge-crossing switches, a defensive maneuver where the aircraft flies over a mountain, then rolls to avoid being hit. Just as they inverted, the pair came face-to-face with a hang glider.
“We were close enough to see the whites of his eyes,” Kremer said. “The pilot whipped up, and I looked back between the tails. I expected to see this crumbling thing. How we didn't hit him and how he didn't get tied up in our jet wash was amazing, but it definitely made my heart skip a couple of beats.”
The team effort
Training, weapons, radars, sensors and aircraft all play key roles in achieving superiority in the air.
Fifth-generation fighters like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor are designed to carry fewer weapons than their predecessors, which means aircrew members need even more confidence in their systems’ reliability. Raytheon Missiles & Defense arms the F-35 with a suite of precision munitions, including the AIM-9X SIDEWINDER missile, AMRAAM missile, Joint Strike Missile, JSOW weapon, Paveway bomb and the StormBreaker smart weapon.