US bombers bring big payloads to Europe war game
September 8, 2016
RAF FAIRFORD, England ― The ground shook as the U.S. Air Force B-52 blasted off from this British airfield on a 1,000-mile flight to the Czech Republic, where airmen were calling in close air support.
U.S. and allied joint terminal attack controllers are in the midst of a rare training opportunity this week during Exercise Ample Strike, a Czech Republic-led war game that has troops coordinating attacks with some of the U.S. Air Force’s most fearsome bombers.
“We’re strengthening and assuring our allied nations that we’re present and involved in activities that are ongoing and also acting as a deterring force for any adversaries that wish to cause us harm,” said Capt. James Bresnahan, a B-52 pilot with the 307th Bomber Wing out of Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
This year’s annual Ample Strike exercise marks the first time that the U.S. has deployed the B-52 Stratofortress and B-1B Lancer on a joint mission for an international exercise and serves as a signal of U.S. European Command’s more robust training mission along NATO’s eastern flank.
The deployment of the bombers to Europe is part of the Operation Atlantic Resolve campaign, which is aimed at reassuring allies of U.S. security commitments to Europe and sending a signal of deterrence to Russia. During the post-Cold War era it was relatively rare to send long-range bombers to Europe, but tensions with Russia have prompted the Air Force to incorporate the aircraft into more alliance exercises.
Ample Strike, which kicked off Monday, brings together JTACs from 18 nations. The U.S. bombers — one B-52 and two B-1B Lancers — are operating out of the U.K., making the short bombing sorties to the Czech Republic, where they are supporting troops in the field.
The exercise involves day and night operations with friendly ground forces calling in air support against an opposing force. Among those taking part are six JTACs from the 2nd Air Support Operations Squadron out of Vilseck, Germany.
Ample Strike also marks a step forward for the Air Force’s Total Force Integration strategy, which involves blending active-duty airmen with reservists as a cost-saving measure.
Citizen airmen from the 489th Bomb Group deployed for the first time since World War II to RAF Fairford, to join the Ample Strike exercise. The 489th reactivated in 2015 to provide a B-1 formal training mission element and to support combat operations while working side-by-side with active-duty airmen from the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.
The unit is geographically separated under the 307th Bomb Wing out of Louisiana, and operates with the 7th Bomb Wing flying B-1B Lancers.
“It’s cost-saving,” said Col. Dennis Heinz, commander of the 489th Bomb Group. “Not to mention the fact that now we train together. You should train the way you fight, and that’s what we’re doing now.”