History was made when all the Air Force Global Strike Command’s strategic power projection bombers simultaneously launched from Guam for their first integrated bomber operation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
On Aug. 17, the U.S. Air Force bomber trio (B-52 Stratofortress, B-1B Lancer and B-2 Spirit) conducted the first coordinated operation in the U.S Pacific Command AOR (Area Of Operations). The three aircraft launched in sequence from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, performed a flyover and then dispersed to conduct simultaneous operations in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia.
The B-52 is part of the latest Stratofortress CBP (Continuous Bomber Presence) detachment to Guam: the aircraft, belonging to the 69th Bomb Squadron from Minot AFB, ND, are about to return stateside after a 6-month deployment. They will be replaced by the “several” B-1B Lancers that have deployed to Andersen on Aug. 6 to undertake the CBP mission in the Pacific.
The B-2 is one of the three stealth bombers with the 509th Bomb Wing that have arrived in Guam on Aug. 9, to conduct extended deterrence operations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific theater, where China is continuing its colonization of the disputed islands in the East and South China Seas.
Missions like the one carried out on Aug. 17 are regularly conducted by the U.S. Air Force, even if these rarely involve all three different types of bombers: for instance, in 2014, the USAF launched a long-range mission with two B-52 Stratofortresses from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
The strategic bombers flew a non-stop for more than 20 hours and covered about 8,000 miles from their home stations to drop ordnance against target located inside Hawaii’s Pohakuloa military weapon range: a coordinated range operation which included low approach training that enabled the air force to put their strategic force’s capability to plan, coordinate and execute such a complex mission with “the right mix” of attack platforms.
The bomber trio mission “demonstrated the U.S. commitment to supporting global security and our ability to launch a credible strategic defense force,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas Cox, the 36th Wing commander in an official statement.
“By doing this, we showed the world we can expertly integrate three different platforms with unique capabilities, meeting (Andersen AFB’s) mission by providing the president of the United States sovereign options to decisively employ airpower across the entire spectrum of engagement, thus achieving our wing’s motto, we are ‘prepared to prevail,’” Cox said.
In simple words, whilst the Air Force Global Strike Command emphasized that the routine deployments to Andersen AFB provide opportunities to train, share experiences and strengthen regional alliances, the truth is that the U.S. Air Force exploited the presence of the tri-bomber force in Guam to get some cool shots (like those in this post) and flex the muscles in the Pacific.
The following video is particularly interesting as it shows a type of departure rarely seen at airbases across the world: the so-called “airborne pickup.”
Military aircraft that don’t take-off in formation, usually depart in sequence, rejoining (if needed) during the climb. In an “airborne pickup” one of the aircraft takes off, makes a 180-degree turn to enter the downwind leg for the runway in use and then turns back again to rejoin with the second aircraft that, in the meanwhile, has just got airborne.
It’s a visual maneuver in which perfect timing is essential to achieve the expected outcome: if everything goes as planned, the first aircraft should be flying in formation with the other one as soon as the second aircraft has completed the departure and before it starts the next turn inbound the first waypoint.
There are no special requirements of configurations and it’s a fairly simple maneuver that requires the airborne plane to compensate for any differences in performance between the aircraft by adjusting the pattern and by calling the “brake release” to aircraft on the ground.
The following video appears to show the final part of the maneuver, with the B-1 Lancer (or “Bone”) already airborne eventually becoming number 1 of the formation departed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas (as opposed to the airborne pickup where the airborne aircraft completes the maneuver as chase plane, trailing the aircraft just taken off).
Bombers and ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) aircraft head towards the Pacific.
It looks like the U.S. Air Force is planning to deploy some strategic bombers and surveillance aircraft in Australia to put some pressure on China amid South China Sea tensions.
The South China Sea is the subject of several territorial claims. China claims sovereignty on some island chains and waters that are within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam
This year, China has started building an airstrip on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea waters claimed by the Philippines.
According to FP, the Defense Department’s Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs David Shear, during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 13, said that along with moving U.S. Marines and Army units around the region, the Pentagon will deploy air assets in Australia, “including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft.”
The U.S. Air Force ISR aircraft, possibly unmanned Global Hawk drones, will monitor activities around the disputed islands, whereas the “Bone” heavy bombers will serve as a deterrent to challenge Beijing aggressive ownership claims.
U.S. strategic bombers have already been temporarily deployed to Australia, to take part in exercises with the Royal Australian Air Force, in 2012 and at the end of 2014 as a consequence of a joint Force Posture Initiative signed in 2011 to train together to face threats in the Pacific.
According to Xinhuanet, China cautioned the U.S. against taking any actions in the region, urging Washington “not to take any risks or make any provocations so as to maintain regional peace and stability.”
With what the service announces as “the largest B-1 modification in program history” the supersonic swing-wing bomber will get several improvements as part of the Integrated Battle Station and Sustainment-Block 16 (SB-16) upgrade aimed to provide B-1 aircrews with a higher level of situational awareness and a faster, secure digital communication link.
SB-16, includes a Vertical Situation Display Upgrade in the cockpit that will replace the two monochrome pilot and co-pilot displays with four color MFDs (Multi Function Display); a Fully Integrated Data Link and a Central Integrated Test System (used to detect and troubleshoot anomalies) in the aft station; a new avionics featuring moving maps and more user friendly symbology, navigation and radar upgrades.
The aircraft will be upgraded to such an extent B-1 aircrew will need to treat a modified B-1 like a brand new aircraft.
Image credit: Jake Melampy/U.S. Air Force
These modifications fall under the Integrated Battle Station initiative, which will be implemented by 2019.
Developmental testing is scheduled to begin in April at Edwards AFB, California, while the 337th TES (Test and Evaluation Squadron) at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, that will conduct operational testing validating tactics needed to exploit new equipment and software is expecting its first fully modified B-1 later this year.
“Whether providing air support over ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan or shifting focus to support maritime operations in the Pacific, the IBS upgrade to the B-1 provides more capability to the quiver of our combatant commanders.”
According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Air Force has launched a six-year plan to more than triple the airspace used for its bombers to accomodate more training sorties of its Dakotas-based B-1 and B-52 planes.
A final environmental impact review is being finalized but talks with American Indian tribes (and the Federal Aviation Administration) have already begun.
The purpose of such discussion is to reach an agreement that “would legally bind the Air Force with commitments to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse effects to historic properties.”
The current training area, dubbed the Powder River Training Complex, is centered few miles to the northwest of where South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana meet.
In spite of being about 8,300 square miles airspace, it can accomodate only one or two B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth AFB, SD, or B-52 Stratofortress bombers from Minot AFB, ND, at one time. For this reasons aircraft have to fly their combat training sorties, which include practice firing runs as well as defensive maneuvers, have to fly to military operation areas (MOAs) located in Nevada or Utah.
Even if flying some thousand miles away from their homebase should not be a problem for both “Bones” and “Buffs”, able to perform Global Strike round-the-globe missions, with the new plan, three new MOAs will be added to the current one, thus creating an airspace larger than West Virginia, about 27,500 square miles, nearer to their stateside airbases.