SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Carrying the largest payload of both
guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory, the
multi-mission B-1B Lancer is the backbone of America's long-range
bomber force, and is flown here by the 34th Expeditionary Bomb
A B-1B Lancer carries the Sniper pod on its belly as it flies during a flight test Februay 23,
2007 from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The 419th Flight Test Squadron testers recently concluded the initial development of the Sniper pod installed on a B-1B. The Sniper pod is an advanced targeting pod with a multi-sensor system that increases the aircraft's self-targeting capability.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Steve Zapka)
"We have a lot of coalition forces on the ground in
Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Seth Graham, the 34th EBS
commander. "They're able to focus on executing their various
missions because of the air support we provide 365, 24/7."
The colonel said it's hard to put into words the
importance of what his unit does, but instead explained in a
vignette the importance of his units air support to the
nation's ground forces.
"On one occasion my crew
arrived overhead of U.S. ground forces pinned down in a
compound receiving small arms fire from multiple
directions," Graham said. "They tell the crew they are
running low on ammo and need immediate air support. My crew
employed a single 500 pound JDAM in close proximity to the
friendly forces which forced the enemy to break contact, and
allowed our guys to walk out of that compound and back to
their base. On the way out they told my guys 'thanks ... you
saved our lives today!' We make life and death decisions
every day ... that's the importance of what we do."
This air support wouldn't be possible, however, without all
the work going on behind the scenes in the squadron.
"We are tasked by the air tasking order from the Combined
Air and Space Operations Center and in turn our mission
planning cell (MPC) puts together everything the aircrew
will need to be successful," said Maj. Aaron Mate, the 34th
EBS assistant director of operations. "The mission planning
cell is comprised of a chief of operations, two flyers,
intelligence and an Army liaison officer."
collects and processes data, integrating it into flight
plans and mission folders that include all the information
necessary for B-1 crews to dynamically support every
regional command in Afghanistan on a given sortie. A
pre-flight crew is then used to ready the aircraft. They run
pre-flight checks to get the jet mission-ready for the crew
who will fly the mission. The pre-flight crew also secures a
secondary aircraft in the event the primary encounters a
malfunction prior to takeoff.
"We want our number of
takeoffs to equal our landings," said Capt. Brandon Packard,
a 34th EBS weapons systems officer. "So we go through these
checks for the mission crew in order to, one, streamline the
process and, two, for the safety and security of our crews
and jets. We take this job just as seriously as flying a
Once the jet is ready to go and the mission
crew has completed their pre-mission briefs, it's time for
The roles of pre-flight and mission crews
are rotated as directed by their aviation resources managers
and policy in order to manage fatigue.
"We can't have
all the fun," Mate said jokingly. "Per AFI, we limit our
crews to a 16-hour day -- 13 hours in the air and three
hours of mission preparation."
The 16-hour rule can
be waived by the operations group commander up to 24-hours
to accommodate longer missions as directed by higher
Every crew is composed of an aircraft
commander, copilot and two weapons systems officers. With an
intercontinental range and the ability to carry up to 48,000
pounds of munitions at 900-plus mph, the B-1 can rapidly
deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision
weapons against any adversary, anywhere in the world, at any
"We are one of the most flexible close-air
support airframes in the Air Force," said Capt. Nikki
Jansen, a 34th EBS pilot. "The B-1's speed and superior
handling characteristics allow it to seamlessly integrate in
mixed force packages. These capabilities, when combined with
its substantial payload, diverse targeting system, long
loiter time and survivability, make the B-1B a key element
of any joint or coalition strike force."
and B-1s are deployed here from Ellsworth Air Force Base,
S.D., and Dyess AFB, Texas.
"We get the greatest
sense of satisfaction when the ground crew's joint terminal
attack controller radios in thanking us for keeping them
safe," Graham said.
During the first six months of
Operation Enduring Freedom, eight B-1s dropped nearly 40
percent of the total tonnage delivered by coalition air
forces. This included nearly 3,900 Joint Direct Attack
Munitions. The B-1 continues to be deployed today, flying
missions daily in support of continuing operations.
By USAF Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Air Force News Service
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