Military News

Friday, April 03, 2015

Team effort in nuclear WSEP

by Senior Airman Kristoffer Kaubisch
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

4/3/2015 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Minot Air Force Base recently conducted an end-to-end operational nuclear weapons system evaluation, demonstrating the strategic bomber force's ability to configure, load, fly and deliver a nuclear capable air launched cruise missile. The B-52H aircrews flew three simulated combat missions from Minot AFB to the Utah Test and Training Range and launched three unarmed AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missiles, between March 9-17.

The AGM-86B is a long-range standoff weapon that is designed to deliver a payload on target, destroying it on impact. As a standoff weapon the ALCM can be launched from outside of the combat area, allowing aircrews to strike distant targets with a high degree of accuracy without exposing themselves to potentially deadly enemy fire.

During the weapons system evaluation, Airmen from the 5th Bomb Wing's munitions and aircraft maintenance squadrons pulled each ALCM from a storage facility. Then, working with a team from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, installed a sensor package and uploaded navigational and performance test software to record all relevant data during the missile's flight.

"This allows the Air Force to assess operational effectiveness, verify weapon system performance, determine reliability, evaluate capability and limitations, identify deficiencies and pursue corrective actions," explained Staff Sgt. Eric Hathaway, 5th Maintenance Operations Squadron weapons load crew team chief. "It also gives crews valuable practice with actual weapons."

Once the diagnostics and programming were completed, each ALCM was delivered to a B-52 for upload and integrity checks by weapons load, maintenance and aircrew members. Aircrews then flew each of the weapons to the test range and launched them. Each ALCM flew for an undisclosed amount of time before striking its target.

"The impact of the WSEP is to show that we are able to do our jobs," Hathaway said. "If we had to go out and load today, that all of the confidence is there, that it would get done and everything would perform how it's supposed to."

The Nuclear Weapon System Evaluation Program is part of the Air Force's ongoing effort to test weapons systems in training missions and prepare aircrews for future mission requirements. The results also help improve tactics and systems.

"Our procedures, our training and everything from start to finish [are] to help us successfully deliver a weapon on target," said Capt. Colin Blount, 69th Bomb Squadron radar navigator. "When it comes to testing it's something you want to have controlled well."

The B-52's air-to-air refueling makes it a literal around-the-world standoff strike option, able to use both conventional and nuclear weapons anywhere on the planet and use standoff weaponry to negate contested air space. For such missions, many hours of training and familiarization with the weapons systems are required to achieve peak proficiency.

"We show up and we study the entire process, we get the brief on why we're doing it and how we're going to go about performing it," Blount said. "After that it's a lot of sitting down and talking through the steps that we're going to perform, because our biggest goal for this is to eliminate human error as best possible."

In addition to the standoff capabilities of the B-52, a key aspect of the bomber is the relative lag time in its ability to deliver a weapon, giving the President flexibility to show force and recall the weapons system as necessary. This program gives crews the opportunity to exercise these capabilities.

"Strategic deterrence, that's part of what the B-52 is meant to do and it's just one of the things the President has available to him," said Capt. Corrine Bird, 5th Operations Support Squadron Nuclear Support Flight commander. "We can (take off) as a deterrence factor and be recalled, and it comes down to the crew to process (message) traffic from the President to determine if we need to launch or retain our missiles as appropriate."

(Capt. Christopher Mesnard, Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs contributed to this article.)

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