A deployed B-52 Stratofortress returns after an Exercise Koa Lightning sortie to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. In September’s Koa Lightning, B-52 aircrews dropped inert weapons on their targets for the first time. The aircraft were talked in to the targets by joint terminal air controllers on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Mahmoud Rasouliyan)
by Tech. Sgt. Steven Wilson
36th Operations Group Public Affairs
9/20/2007 – ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFPN) — Airmen of the 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron here flew to the Pele Bombing Range in Hawaii to drop inert weapons as part of Exercise Koa Lightning Sept. 16 and 17.
Different from previous Koa Lightning exercises, bomber aircrews dropped ordnance as they were talked into the targets by joint terminal attack controllers on the ground.
“Dropping inert munitions over the bombing range in Hawaii is a tremendous training improvement for our crews,” said Col. Damian McCarthy, the 36th Operations Group commander. “While our previous simulations conducted during training are top-notch, I can tell you as an aviator myself that absolutely nothing beats dropping ordnance on a target in terms of training value, especially for our younger aircrews.”
The actual ordnance dropped for these training scenarios are painted concrete. So while they offer great schooling for aviators, they won’t actually explode.
“The weapons we’re dropping have GPS guidance,” said Capt. David Leaumont, a B-52 Stratofortress instructor radar navigator with the 20th EBS and participant in Koa Lightning. “We’re dropping in remote areas of Hawaii, so they’re accurate and a safe training munition for the populace and environment.”
But the flyers aren’t simply suiting up and heading to Hawaii. It involves a very long day.
Flights are “long durations of at least 18 hours,” Captain Leaumont said. “Anytime we’re employed in the war on terrorism, we’re going to fly long sorties like these Koa Lightning ones. We rarely fly over 10 to 12 hours, but our actual combat durations are usually 17 to 19 hours.”
The sortie itself, plus two hours of pre-flight and one or two hours of post-flight briefings make a training sortie like this easily turn into a 22- to 24-hour day, Captain Leaumont said.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Long duration sorties train our aircrew to remain vigilant for the whole duration,” he said. “We also get to work in close-air support with the joint terminal attack controllers, who help as we respond to Army troops being harassed (by enemy combatants).”
During their stay here, the members of the 20th EBS have integrated with KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-10 Extenders, F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons. There also have been joint combat search and rescue training missions with the Navy’s helicopter squadron, HSC-25.
“The training here is above average when comparing it to training in the United States,” Captain Leaumont said. “It’s very valuable for the JTACs working with us and for the United States itself as we’re able to show the flag in the Pacific and get our green aircrew used to long duration sorties.”
It all boils down to raw combat power with a global reach, Colonel McCarthy said.
“This opportunity is great,” Colonel McCarthy said. “We’re experiencing real-time force integration between the fighters, the JTACs on the ground and our tankers. This gives us the opportunity to become more proficient in the way we will fight and will make integration in combat that much easier. Our Airmen will be much better prepared to take the fight to the bad guys, I promise you that.”
The continuous rotational bomber presence is aimed at enhancing regional security, demonstrating U.S. commitment to the Western Pacific, and providing integrated training opportunities.