Bones Back In Britain

Bomber Task Force Europe 

Formed in June 1917, the 9th Bomb Squadron which is part of the 7th Bomb Wing based at Dyess AFB, Texas is the oldest bomb squadron in the United States Air Force. The squadron maintains combat readiness to deliver rapid, decisive airpower on a large scale in support of warfare taskings and still to this day the B-1B continues to be one of the most capable and lethal bombers in the world today.

On 6th October, two B-1B Lancers, 86-0110 and 86-0140 using callsigns ‘REMUS 01/02’ along with supporting equipment, and nearly 200 support personnel from the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron arrived at RAF Fairford to execute a long-planned Bomber Task Force Europe mission which is a regularly scheduled U.S. European Command and U.S. Strategic Command joint mission series. US European Command has been conducting BTF missions since 2018, which have consisted of rotations of Global Strike Commands B-1B Lancers, B-52H Stratofortress’ and most recently B-2A Spirits. These BTF missions allow U.S. Air Force personnel and aircraft from different squadrons to integrate with a number of NATO and partner Air Forces enhancing interoperability and readiness. Allied and partner fighter jets regularly fly with U.S. bomber crews during their European training to hone mission planning skills, rehearse in-flight communications and strengthen multinational relationships between aviation specialists. By integrating with allies and partners for the fourth time this year, the U.S Air Force is underlining its commitment to shared values and reinforcing the Atlantic bond. Gen Jeff Harrigian, USAFE-AFAFRICA Commander explained, “BTF missions amplify our coalition reach and project our collective airpower across theaters. By training and integrating with our allies and partners, we are expanding our ability to adapt to challenges and counter adversaries in the global security environment.” Strategic bomber missions within the USAFE-AFAFRICA theaters demonstrate the U.S. Air Force’s unique capability to rapidly deploy and integrate with NATO allies and coalition partners while providing necessary training to the joint force. Lt. Col. Nathan Jenkins the 9th EBS Commander said - “Conducting BTF operations from forward deployed locations enables collective defense capabilities, provides a great opportunity to integrate and train with allies and partners in the region, and demonstrate the B-1’S forward power projection capability.”

“Conducting BTF operations from forward deployed locations enables collective defense capabilities, provides a great opportunity to integrate and train with allies and partners in the region, and demonstrate the B-1’S forward power projection capability.”

Lt Col. Nathan Jenkins - 9th EBS Commander

Capt Mike “Fast” Lane is a current B-1B pilot with the 345th Bomb Squadron who is attached to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and represents the Air Force Reserve components ability to support the active duty counterparts. “My flying history is a little different than active duty. I was hired by the 345th Bomb Squadron before pilot training so I knew I would fly the BONE from the very beginning. Currently, I have flown four jets within the USAF. We all start on the T-6 Texan as that is the initial trainer all pilots go through then I moved onto the T-1A Jayhawk for advanced training then onto the T-38 to top it off for some high speed familiarisation training.” ‘Fast’ continued, “This is the 9th’s first deployment to the UK however not the B-1s first time here. Our current mission is really two fold. We provide strategic support for the EUCOM combatant commander and for us to get some good, off-station training with our NATO partners. Most of the missions we are flying here have a training objective that reflects one of our main mission sets, i.e JDAM, Standoff Weapons and Close Air Support (CAS). Personally I have flown training missions in the local UK air space with standoff weapons, then a CAS sortie in Norway with our NATO partners. These missions let us step out of our normal training model and work with and in unfamiliar situations. It also builds confidence within our crews and our allies that we can fight together to achieve a common objective.”

A typical operational B-1B flight crew comprises two pilots and two WSO’s. One pilot will be the Aircraft Commander concentrating primarily on flying the aircraft, looking for threats and collision avoidance. The co-pilot will meanwhile focus on situational awareness, dealing with the Air Traffic Control, radios and various laptops. One WSO will be the Offensive Systems Operator (OSO) situated behind the cockpit operating the sniper pod as well as talking on the radios with the co-pilot as backup. The other WSO will be the Defensive System Officer (DSO) who assists the OSO, entering flight co-ordinates and monitoring weapons and their potential delivery. Each WSO is trained to sit in either seat (DSO or OSO) and as can pilots who can sit in either the left or right seat also. This is different to other twin seat aircraft where the Aircraft Commander will only sit in the left seat. Capt. Mike “Fast” Lane explained what the B-1 is like to fly. “The Bone is a bad Mamma Jamma! She’s fast when she wants, agile when needed and lethal always. The Bone is really three jets in one. With the wings forward in the takeoff and landing configuration its like a heavy - after all we are landing at large gross weights. It’s kind of sluggish in turns and you have to really watch the G loading when in this configuration. In the cruise it’s like an airliner, we just hook up the auto pilot and monitor the systems. FIGHTS ON! This is where the Bone makes the money. We are a mach-capable heavy bomber. What this means is that we can keep up with the fighter push and egress fast! When the jet is in it’s fighting stance it flies much like a fighter. We can roll the jet and use G to get where we need to be. Overall the Bone is an awesome jet to fly - the best part of my job is strapping the jet on and lighting four burners!”

"The Bone is a bad mama jama! She's fast when she wants, agile when needed and lethal always"

Capt. Mike "Fast" Lane 

Capt. “Smack” Skinner is a Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) on the B-1B and the Assistant Chief of Scheduling within the 9th Bomb Squadron. “My flying history is fairly consistent with most WSO’s in the B-1 community. From my personal perspective, this deployment was not as challenging from an administrative and infrastructure standpoint. That is due to an established presence of U.S. Airmen here at RAF Fairford, and the previous deployment of B-1s from the 345th Bomb Squadron in 2018 afforded some of our current 9th Bomb Squadron aircrew members the opportunity to gain experience flying in the local airspace. Capt. “Gimbal” Gantar is a Weapons Systems Officer within the 9th Bomb Squadron and gave some details on what sort of missions they were flying. “We flew up to the Setermoen Range in Norway and released inert GBU-31s and GBU-54s. Releasing actual weapons on a range is always fun for aircrew and gives us great training when we see the weapons shack the target! We go through the mechanics on every flight and in every sim, but feeling the weapons leave the jet and the drag from the open doors is something you just can’t simulate.” Not only did the 9th drop munitions they did extensive work with NATO partner Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACS). Capt. “Gimbal” Gantar explained how these BTFs bring invaluable training for a Weapons Systems Officer. “You can train all you want but there’s nothing like doing the job for real. The experience you gain from talking to control who speak with different accents makes you a better WSO and allows for ease of execution when working with foreign JTACs and our other NATO partners.” She continued - “Sorties working with JTACs usually involve us delivering coordinates for targets on our own or being passed targets from the JTAC. The Sniper pod is useful when we need to derive our own coordinates and can also be used for battle hit assessment to confirm that the weapons hit the intended target. It becomes our view to the outside world that allows us to document all our strikes.” Being able to hit ranges in Norway the squadron were able to drop inert weapons with Norwegian Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. “This is a huge benefit to us as Airmen. By working and dropping in real time, it lets us practice as we would fight. Real drops are always fun and challenging. There is no way to simulate an actual shape coming off the jet.” - Capt. ‘Fast’ Lane explained.

On Monday October 11th two B-1Bs flew their first BTF missions from RAF Fairford. Departing just before sunrise B-1Bs 86-0110 and 86-0140 using callsigns ‘STORK 01/02’ carried out a mission during which they integrated with coalition Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) from Lithuania and the Air Force Special Operation Commands 352nd Special Operations Wing at RAF Mildenhall that marked the simulated ground targets to the bomber air crews. The mission focused on enhancing readiness and interoperability for the controllers responsible for coordinating airstrikes to support the ground forces. After operating in the Baltic region, the B-1s headed to Spangdahlem, Germany which is home of the 52nd Fighter Wing where the Lancers landed for the very first time. During the short stop Spangdahlem’s personnel executed a hot-pit refuelling; the hot pits are routinely conducted as they allow aircraft to rapidly refuel without shutting down engines, which increases operational readiness and reduces the amount of time needed to get the aircraft back into the air. In this case, the 52nd Fighter Wing airmen employed the new Versatile Integrating Partner Equipment Refuelling (VIPER) kit. The VIPER kit system is a Agile Combat Employment (ACE) capability which functions as a fuel adaptor; it enables the Bombers’ the ability to land and operate from austere airfields at any forward deployed location. Along with the B-1’s first landing at Spangdahlem, the use of the VIPER kit marked the first time the refuelling system was used outside of US Air Forces in Europes F-16 operations. After the hot-pit refuelling was completed the two jets departed Spangdahlem and headed back to RAF Fairford where one B-1B 86-0110 upon landing conducted another hot-pit before departing just after sunset as ‘DARK 11’ for another BTF sortie. 

By working and dropping in real time, it lets us practice as we would fight. Real drops are always fun and challenging. There is no way to simulate an actual shape coming off the jet.”

Capt. Mike "Fast" Lane

Another significant mission was flown from RAF Fairford which was actually the last mission of the 9th EBS BTF deployment when a pair of B-1s 86-0140 and 86-0136 departed late in the evening of November 10th using callsigns ‘GRIZZLY 01/02’. They flew alongside two French Mirage 2000s as well as two RAF and two USMC F-35Bs from the UK Carrier Strike Group’s HMS Queen Elizabeth over Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The mission served as a visual representation of the international participants collective commitment to stability and security in the Horn of Africa. It further demonstrated Djibouti as a leading security partner in the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) region. The mission provided an opportunity for the aircrews to work with international forces aboard the carrier strike group and those assigned to Camp Lemonnier, the United States only base in Africa. The mission also exercised the US aircrews ability to operate in and through a variety of airspaces, United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). After flying more than 7,000 nautical miles to reach Djibouti, the 9th EBS aircrews worked with US and French Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) to provide simulated Close Air Support (CAS) at Djibouti’s grand Bara Range and went on to execute a low flypast above Camp Lemonnier joined by six other fighter aircraft. The ability to operate seamlessly with allies shows the strength together and underpins stability and security in the region. The bomber task force mission coincided with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s Allied Appreciation Day event where approximately 200 guests and senior leaders representing Djibouti, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Italy and the United States came together to witness the flypast and to participate in a variety of interactive and static demonstrations. The event showcased the combined military strength present in Djibouti and served to honour the shared partnerships. The two B-1s returned to RAF Fairford the following day after being airborne for just over 18 hours marking the 9th EBS longest BTF mission of the deployment. Despite having been in service for more than 30 years, to this day, the B-1B continues to be one of the most capable and lethal bombers in the world - delivering rapid, decisive airpower on a large scale across the globe. 

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