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Weapons specialists from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., prepare to load a BDU-56 bomb on a B-2 Spirit bomber at Andersen AFB, Guam.

Weapons specialists from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., prepare to load a BDU-56 bomb on a B-2 Spirit bomber at Andersen AFB, Guam. (Val Gempis / U.S. Air Force)

Weapons specialists from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., prepare to load a BDU-56 bomb on a B-2 Spirit bomber at Andersen AFB, Guam.

Weapons specialists from the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., prepare to load a BDU-56 bomb on a B-2 Spirit bomber at Andersen AFB, Guam. (Val Gempis / U.S. Air Force)

From left, Staff Sgt. Michael Taylor, with Senior Airman Joseph Nelson and Kristian Fugrad, load a BDU-56 bomb on their B-2 Spirit aircraft before a mission at Andersen AFB, Guam.

From left, Staff Sgt. Michael Taylor, with Senior Airman Joseph Nelson and Kristian Fugrad, load a BDU-56 bomb on their B-2 Spirit aircraft before a mission at Andersen AFB, Guam. (Val Gempis / U.S. Air Force)

A tiny rock in the Pacific is hosting one of the Air Force’s stealthiest planes.

Four B-2 Spirit bombers and more than 250 airmen from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force, Mo., are deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as part of a continuous bomber rotation to maintain regional security that began with B-52s in February 2004.

The B-2 is no stranger to the Pacific, but it’s hardly familiar territory. Col. Steven Basham, commander of the 393rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron — also part of the bomb wing — said the aircraft spent 45 days on Guam in 1998 for training.

This deployment is the first time the B-2 has deployed — to the Pacific or anywhere — as an Air Expeditionary Force, Basham said.

As such, the B-2s fall under Pacific Command’s operational control, the commander said, and “we are now liable … to anything they may need to use us for in this theater.”

Flying out of Guam, as well as several other B-2 forward-operating locations around the world, allows the bomber to generate more sorties on certain missions, Basham said. The B-2 “can fly from Missouri to anywhere in the world, strike and return to Missouri,” he said, “but the trade-off is you have to fly fewer sorties. If you’re closer to a potential adversary, the greater number of sorties.”

Like the B-2, the B-1 and B-52 “can carry an enormous amount of weapons,” but the B-2 puts “the stealth factor into the equation,” Basham said. “Whereas the other aircraft are highly visible by radar and other detecting methods, the B-2 is able to get up just a little bit closer to the enemy and avoid detection.”

Most current operations have focused on local training, Basham said, and on Guam there are numerous lessons to learn.

“It’s allowing our maintainers to work in an environment that’s not as sterile as home … and we’re operating out of a location that is brand new to many of our pilots,” he said. “You don’t have the normal comforts of your squadron … and certain battle rhythms that you’re used to.”

For the more than 20 aviators who co-pilot the B-2, Guam has opened the door wide on training opportunities while posing unique challenges, from rain-slick runways to fewer back-up airfields for emergency landings.

Capt. Justin Amann said most of his two years piloting the B-2 have been spent stateside, where most flying follows planned routes from Whiteman to Point B and back home again.

“Out here, we coordinate for a big chunk of airspace ahead of time and we can fly wherever” within that boundary, he said. “We have a lot more flexibility.”

Weather is a factor in any environment but pilots pay it extra heed flying over the Pacific, where divert options are few and far, Amann said.

The B-2s are flying about 12 sorties a week, he said, some upward of 20 hours.

Those flights “not only ensure we’re ready to fly at any time longer sorties, but also shows the capability to fly long sorties out of Guam,” Basham said.

The bombers have dropped inert weapons over a nearby training range and simulated the employment of its precision-guided weapons, such as the 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions bombs. The B-2 can carry up to 80 JDAM at a time, Basham said. “That allows us to go up against 80 different targets. That has been a fantastic capability to exercise out here,” he said.

Loading the inert bombs and checking the B-2 weapons system are maintainers such as Staff Sgt. Justin Leach, a B-2 weapons team chief.

“It’s totally different over here,” he said. “Back at home, we don’t have to worry about getting parts in. Over here, it’s a little slim. It can be stressful if you’re waiting for a few days for a part you need” that’s in Missouri.

That’s been the only challenge for the weapons’ loaders, Leach said, besides working in hot, humid conditions.

The mechanics who maintain the aircraft have encountered different challenges, such as frequent washings at a base without a wash facility designed specifically for the B-2, according to an April 8 Air Force Link news story. Maintainers are required to rinse the aircraft after every other flight to prevent corrosion in Guam’s salty, moist air. At Whiteman, the aircraft are washed every 120 days.

To wash the B-2s, the mechanics learned to use a lift truck to rinse the aircraft’s top area, according to the Air Force Link report.

Leach said this deployment will pave the way for future airmen with lessons learned. “We can tell them what they need for the next one.”

Officials would not say how long B-2s would remain on Guam. “That’s still close-hold,” Basham noted.

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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