MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. —
As America’s national security strategy evaluates “growing political, economic, and military competitions,” marked by advancing technologies and an increasingly complex global environment, Gen. Timothy Ray, Air Force Global Strike Commander, has directed his bomber forces to “critically examine how we train and employ the bomber fleet and identify areas that must change in order to become the long-range precision strike force our nation requires.”
Seeking areas for new ideas and potential change, Airmen from Minot Air Force Base’s 5th Bomb Wing, North Dakota, are experimenting to improve the flexibility, adaptability and resilience of America’s conventional and nuclear bomber forces from the bottom up.
“We need to be prepared, especially as a combat wing, to operate out of different locations where things are not as familiar,” said Lt. Col. Dennis Zabka, 69th Bomb Squadron and previous Moses Lake, Washington, exercise commander.
In fact, with the Air Force’s renewed emphasis on its squadrons as warfighting units, bomber forces are demonstrating their capability of deploying, dispersing, training and employing as bomber task forces that are much smaller and nimbler than wing-sized units.
Moreover, America’s bomber forces no longer assume that Major Operating Bases, both CONUS and overseas, are sanctuary from potential enemy attack. The 5th BW’s recent Moses Lake exercise exemplified this new concept for dynamic execution and survivability of America’s long-range strike from a location far from a typical operating base.
“We figured it would require a pick of our Airspace Ground Equipment, maintainers, and aircrew Airmen with some B-52H Stratofortresses, and just operate out of a strange location for about a week,” added Zabka.
Team Minot Airmen relocated to a remote former-military airfield, established, sustained and defended an operating base. Then, the team produced combat training sorties to participate in an integrated flying exercise.
This first effort to implement a new warfighting concept required months of planning between Team Minot’s leadership, internal and external support agencies, and AFGSC staff.
“A lot of thought was put into the planning phases so that when it came to execute, it was fairly easy,” Zabka reflected.
Next time, a deployment like Moses Lake will be even easier.
“I’m leading my Airmen to understand we can learn more quickly as a wing if we are not afraid to set objectives that force us to think differently, to incorporate smart ideas from the lowest levels, and that we might even fail in areas where I’m able to assume appropriate risk,” said Col. Brad Cochran, 5th Bomb Wing Commander.
While critical modernization of America’s bomber force will take some time, exercise experiments like Moses Lake show that there is still some room for improved lethality with the aging bombers we have. However, we must be willing to harness the ideas of our incredible Airmen—the Air Force’s competitive advantage, and Team Minot is on the leading edge.
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