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
"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
"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.)