In an exclusive insight into US Air Force B-1B operations during combat missions in the Middle East, I was granted exclusive access to the secretive base at Al Udeid, Qatar for a rare look at the Lancer at war.
Lt Col Erick Lord is the Commander of the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (EBS) which falls under the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Deployed from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, he commands a team of over 75 B-1 aviators and oversees the maintenance operations of over 300 maintenance professionals who deliver combat air power in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve. On order, the 9th EBS delivers combat airpower in support of other contingency operations in the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) to achieve combatant commander objectives. Captain “Bear” Olgun is a Weapons System Officer (WSO) and has been flying the B-1 for 6 years. This is his fourth deployment to Al Udeid with the B-1 but his first with the 9th EBS - “Our main mission here is to support USCENTCOM area of responsibility. USCENTCOM is run by an Army four star general who controls the whole area of operations which includes Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Syria. What we do is provide combat airpower in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve to all coalition partners whether it be with other air forces in the air or coalition partners on the ground - Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) and other army ground units such as Marines and Navy seals in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. We are there to provide airpower and we like to think of ourselves as customer service providers to our customers on the ground making sure that those guys and girls on the ground get home safely.”
On order, the 9th EBS will deliver combat air powering support of other contingency operations in the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility to achieve Combined Forces Air Component Commander objectives. “The presence and capabilities of the B-1 serve as a deterrent for any would-be aggressor while assuring our allies in the USCENTCOM region that we have the will and ability to defend national and allied interests. The Air Force’s only non-nuclear bomber, the B-1 provides a highly-versatile, multi-mission weapons system that carries the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force Inventory. The B-1’s unprecedented persistence, range and weapon flexibility provides a strong deterrent to regional foes, while providing unrivalled support to Combatant Commander objectives and protection to the region.” Lt Col Lord added. Receiving his commission in September 2003, Lt Col Lord graduated from Joint Specialised Undergraduate Navigator Training and the B-1 Formal Training Unit, he then completed operational assignments at both Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota and Dyess AFB, Texas. Lt Col Lord is a Senior Navigator with over 2,500 hours in the B-1 of which over 1,500 hours of that time flown in combat. He has deployed four times to Southwest Asia in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve.
Lt Col Erick Lord
Lt Col Lord explains how the squadron works up to combat deployment. “Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose our enemy or the war we support, so the B-1 crews must be prepared to fight and employ combat airpower across the full spectrum of conflict. Red Flag exercises provide realistic, integrated training in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment, think adversaries. Green Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier USCENTCOM spin-up exercise where B-1 crews have the opportunity to hone their close air support skills in realistic force on force, air-to ground combat scenarios. In a given year, we will participate in both exercises, which also afford the opportunity for us to train with our sister services, NATO and coalition partners.” Lt Col Lord explains the process of how he decides what airmen to deploy into combat. “ Deploying with the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and employing a B-1 in combat is an absolute honour and privilege. Our Country demands perfection and I expect nothing less - I train the squadron’s aircrew to use their minds before before they employ their weapons and expect them to always exercise appropriate restraint. however, when forced to choose a kinetic response to thwart our nations enemies and protect American lives and interests, I expect them to exercise proportionality while employing precise and lethal airpower. I expect them to be perfect, every time because American and coalition lives depend on it.” Lt Col Lord continued, “Only the best and most proficient combat aviators and airmen earn the privilege of wearing the 9th patch in combat and that patch is hard-earned. B-1 aviators must graduate approximately two years of training and then pass a rigorous mission verification exercise, whereas the commander, I personally certify them worthy of combat operations. Although we are the smallest Air Force we’ve ever been, there is no shortage of premier combat aviators and not everyone makes the roster - I left people at home because they just weren’t good enough yet. I have not only the responsibility , but also the pleasure of leading America’s finest into combat.” The 9th EBS deployed enough Airmen to employ the B-1 and meet the objectives set forth by the combined Forces Air Component Commander, which are: Deliver, Airpower, Develop Relationships and Defend the region. The typical B-1 crew member averages a couple of combat missions per week over the course of a deployment rotation. The remaining time is spent either recovering from a mission or supporting combat operations through a myriad of ground duties. “Generally speaking, crews are “hard-crewed” for the duration of a deployment, with a change or reshuffling of crews, occurring half-way,” Lt Col Lord continued, “This construct allows crews to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it allows each crew member to better anticipate each other’s next move, which can cut down on the requirement for extra spoken words and such a crew construct affords the opportunity for everyone to really get to know one another. Crews are built off of experience levels, for example we will pair an experienced Instructor Pilot with a less experienced co-pilot, and an experienced Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) with one of less experience. I will also take into account personalities - I try my best not to put four super type-As in the same cockpit! Having four sets of eyeballs in the cockpit , understanding other’s tendencies, their strengths and weaknesses and even one’s normal state of emotion, often proves to be a force multiplier.” Capt “Bear” Olgun explains, “Some of it is a social experiment to see how people operate together but most of it is due to the fact that, if you are with the same people, you condition each other and get use to each others way of operating the aircraft and then everything and everyone is in sync - its to get some sort of standardisation inside the cockpit so that every single time you fly, you fly with an expectation from the crew.”
Lt Col Erick Lord
Airmen of the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron fly Close Air Support (CAS) missions supporting both Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Operation Inherent Resolve. The B-1 is the workhorse of the USCENTCOM region, where crews employ the aircraft at extreme operational limits during combat sorties averaging over 12 hours in duration and covering over 3,500 nautical miles. Equipped with the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod and a synthetic aperture ground mapping radar with moving target tracking capability, the B-1 stands ready to provide all-weather non traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as timely precision strike capabilities supporting U.S and coalition ground forces. The B-1 with a maximum flyable gross weight of over 400,000Ibs and a maximum speed of approximately mach 1.2 which is 800 nautical miles per hour, the B-1 is unlike any other jet in the Air Force’s inventory. With its sleek curves and 4x General Electric F-101 engines tucked underneath it’s belly, the B-1 looks like a small fighter jet on the enemy’s radar and with a control stick instead of a yoke, the jet flies and manoeuvres much more like a fighter than a bomber. As the wings sweep fully aft and tuck into the fuselage, the B-1 is capable of supersonic flight for durations unmatched by other aircraft with smaller loads. The B-1 has been continuously upgraded since production and with each new software block, comes new capabilities and often new weapons. Major “Repo” Yadlin has been a pilot flying the B-1 for two and half years of which this deployment to Al Udeid is her first. “Flying the B-1 is, despite the cliche it sounds, amazing. It’s a huge aircraft but it handles like a fighter. It is extremely responsive and manoeuvrable - there’s nothing quite like the feeling of those four afterburners kicking in, you can really feel the force of those engines. It’s the best kick in the pants you can imagine. In terms of what we do best there is probably a doctrinal answer versus a practical answer however, doctrinal, we are the best at what we’re designed for - low level ingress to get in below enemy radars, popping up to release weapons and then dropping low to egress. While the B-1 is an extremely impressive aircraft low level, both with the terrain following radar and just being hand flown, I think we are the best at being adaptable and versatile. Major “Repo” Yadlin continues, “The B-1 has become the premier Close Air Support (CAS) platform in the Middle East and that is because of our ability to adapt and react to the needs of the Air Force, regardless of the mission required. We can be a strategic bomber flying long range power projection missions in the Pacific, or we can employ at a tactical level, dropping weapons within close proximity of friendly forces.”
The Air Force’s only non-nuclear bomber, the B-1 provides a highly-versatile, supersonic, multi-mission weapon system that carries the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force. The B-1s huge fuselage conceals a huge amount of weaponry, up to seventy-five thousand pounds of ordnance tucked within three internal weapons bays, each independently configurable and capable of carrying a mixture of GPS-aided bombs and cruise missiles. The B-1 is capable of carrying the following weapon types; 500Ib Mk-82 or 24 2,000Ib Mk-84 general purpose bombs; up to 84 500Ib Mk-62 or 8 2,000Ib Mk-65 Quick Strike naval mines; 30 cluster munitions or 30 Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispensers; up to 24 2,000Ib GBU-31 or 15 500Ib GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM); up to 24 AGM-158A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and 15 GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The specific weapon load out for each mission is tailored to satisfy ground commander requirements. Commanding a deployed combat squadron is hugely demanding and it also brings a personal and emotional side with it too. Lt Col Lord explains how crews are trained to deal with the day to day life of being deployed from an emotional perspective. “I go to great lengths to prepare my aircrew and their families to be able to deal with and bear the burden of taking human life. A combat deployment affects everyone differently, and sometimes the most insignificant event can trigger the flow of emotion - coping with the stress of combat is personal and complicated. Nonetheless, the squadron and the Air Force stands ready to provide resources should a warfighter need to talk to someone about something seen or done. I preach restraint and proportionality and I wish the squadron could achieve the Combatant Commander’s intent without taking a single human life. America’s enemies, however, continue to prove that they are willing to die for what they believe in. Although the 9th EBS comes in peace, we stand ready to strike with lethality and precision. Personally, I maintain my mental health by compartmentalising, when the door closes to the briefing room, its time for business. In the jet, it’s all about business, and until we land and debrief, more business. A benefit of deployed life, separated from family, I land and decompress with fellow crew members, go to sleep to wake up and do it all again the next day - we’re all in this together and we deal with it together. I tell me youngest aviators and remind my oldest that when you hear American sons and daughters on the other end of the radio in trouble, any doubt, reservation, or hesitation of taking enemy life instantly fades. At the end of the day, when my deployment comes to an end, I take comfort in the fact that I am making the world a safer, more stable place.”
Capt 'Bear' Olgun
Capt “Spad” Winningham has flown the B-1 for one and half years and this is his first combat deployment in the B-1. “I think some of the most memorable moments in combat have been when you arrive to the Area of Responsibility and you are talking to a JTAC over the radio and you can instantly hear the stress in their voice, they are talking that little bit faster, you may even sometimes hear gunshots in the background whilst they are telling you the facts, you can break that contact and help them out, we are then able to deliver that help and you then instantly hear the relief in their voice. It’s a pretty rewarding feeling knowing that you have really helped someone out who was really in need of it.” Capt “Bear” Olgun speaks about one memorable time he was in Combat. “I remember one mission during the early part of this deployment, we were flying over Afghanistan and it was pretty quiet for the most of the flight then the unit that we were supporting on the ground called us on the radio. They had been taking rocket fire for days on end and needed our help. We quickly got some coordinates and got on station just to show our presence and to make some noise and we also did some scans for them. It wasn’t until the ground unit radioed through to thank us for being overhead making some noise as that was the first time in 24 hours that any of them were able to get some sleep. So even though we may not be dropping munitions in that operation or taking out enemies, the sheer presence and noise that the B-1 makes just deter the enemy from conducting any type of attacks - if we can provide 6-8 hours sleep for those guys on the ground then thats still a huge win in our book.” Over the course of approximately 125 B-1 combat missions Lt Col Lord has many fond memories, most of which have been in combat. “You always remember your first “Winchester” (dropping every bomb you have) and you always remember your first combat sortie as an instructor, the so-called adult supervision in the jet. Back in 2013 my squadron commander promoted me to Major over “bad guy” country, and this deployment I’ve had the pleasure promoting two of my Airmen over bad guy land - those experiences rank right up near the top. In short they are all memorable , for I have the pleasure of leading and flying with the finest that the United States Air Force has to Offer. I am a firm believer that the best jet in the Air Force is the one that you fly, they are all great; but in my own humble opinion, a day at the office sat at the controls of a B-1 is as good as it gets.” Lt Col Lord.
Lt Col Erick Lord