Strategic Air Command has been practicing Emergency War Order missions—the ones we would fly in the event of nuclear war—for more than thirty years. We’re good at that,” said Lt. Col. William Thurston, Assistant Deputy Commander for Operations of the 7th Bomb Wing. “But SAC also has a conventional mission. To get good at that, you have to deploy airplanes. And you don’t get good at that unless you actually deploy them.”
Getting bombers and nuclear weapons to their targets was and is SAC’s primary flying mission. It isn’t the only mission, though. For some time now, SAC has put increasing emphasis on its role in nonnuclear conflict. Starting this year, four units that fly Boeing B-52Gs will be tasked with conventional missions exclusively.
During World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, strategic bombers carried iron bombs long distances with telling results. Next time—if there is a next time—the tactics will be different. B-52s cruising toward a target today at 20,000 feet in the daytime would be open to all manner of enemy fighters, antiaircraft guns, and surface-to-air missiles. Standoff, precision-guided conventional munitions might be one solution to such threats, but such munitions won’t be available for some time, and even then, quantities will be limited.
That leaves direct attack. The bombers will have to run in to their targets from several directions at once, usually at night and almost always at low altitudes and in any weather. Electronic countermeasures and terrain masking will be imperative. These attacks will also have to launch from bases near the front to maximize flexibility and minimize dependence on tankers.
A notional concept called the “Strategic Area of Responsibility” (SAR) would have the B-52s flying in just such a scenario. SAC bomb wings would deploy overseas in units of seven bombers. Operational control of these B-52s would shift to the theater commander, who would employ them with the advice of a SAC general officer. The bombers would operate from predesignated forward bases with prepositioned munitions and supplies and with fuel provided by the theater command.
The bombers would then carry out autonomous preplanned or short-notice missions without tanker support against targets far beyond the range of friendly fighters. These strikes against major targets beyond the deep interdiction range of F- ills or F-15Es would seriously impede the flow of enemy follow-on forces, destroy war-sustaining logistics centers, and force the enemy to spread his fighter and missile defenses over a much greater area.
With access to such areas as the La Junta radar bomb-scoring site in Colorado and the many “Flag” ranges near Nellis AFB, Nev., most SAC units could do all of their training out of their home base if all they had to do was train for the attack profile. Unlike tactical fighter units, though, SAC bomber units did not often practice the art of bare-base deployment before 1987.
It was not possible to go in a single leap from a well-established, well-supplied, organic base to an austere forward operating location (FOL) and still be able to launch bomber sorties. To prepare for operations at the forty-five fields identified for their use in Europe (and FOLs elsewhere), SAC chose a stepping-stone approach. The most difficult step, the deployment of a numbered air force, will take place this month.
Since most B-52Gs are assigned to Eighth Air Force, the Mighty Eighth has been the first to develop a deployment capability. Units were sent initially on short-notice “Rapid Shot” deployments to Andersen AFB, Guam, and other places with built-in B-52 support facilities. Six bombers, crews, and a small contingent of maintenance people deployed and conducted operations at wartime sortie rates.
The next step was to deploy seven B-52s and supporting tankers to an austere field that could provide minimal support, mainly in the form of buildings for operations and housing. Flying in these “Mighty Force” deployments was highly realistic, but the exercises were mainly for the support units.
Deploying ten to twelve aircraft might not seem that tough. Fly the airplanes to a forward base, set up shop, and launch sorties. It is not that simple. To begin with, each unit got no more than thirty days’ notice to develop deployment plans, iron out problems, and go.
The deployment itself involves more than airplanes and aircrews. In order to operate, a unit also needs maintenance, spare parts, ordnance, weather forecasting, communications, food, billeting, and much else. For its “Mighty Force” deployment, the 7th Bomb Wing from Carswell AFB, near Fort Worth, Tex., took 438 of its own people and forty-five communications technicians from other organizations. They even had to take their own dogfood for the four-footed guard troops.
“You either bring it with you, find it, make it, or find a substitute,” said SMSgt. Raymond Hovey, the first sergeant on Carswell’s deployment. “Improvisation, especially in this environment, is the rule. The objective is to get the job done.”
Nearly Bare Base
The site that Eighth Air Force uses for “Mighty Force” deployments is near Burns Flat, Okla. The oil bust left that small town little more than a widening of 1-40 an hour or so west of Oklahoma City. Its economic center now is the Clinton-Sherman Industrial Air Park. Many of the facilities at what was Clinton-Sherman AFB until the late 1960s are used by private companies and the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol.
Clinton-Sherman has just enough facilities to make it an excellent training ground for the bomb wings. There is a single long runway, a tower manned by Federal Aviation Administration controllers (the FAA also uses Clinton-Sherman as a training ground), bomb storage igloos, a large administration building, a good-sized multipurpose hall (once the Officers’ Club), and maintenance and supply buildings.
Most enlisted men are quartered in dormitories. Male officers and flight crews are billeted in unfurnished houses, and the officer and enlisted women share two houses. “These are really austere conditions—only three TV sets on the entire base,” joked Lt. Col. Charlie Glazener, chief of Eighth Air Force Bomber Operations Division, who was at Clinton-Sherman as an observer.
The first organizations into an area in a wartime deployment would be the security police, Prime RIBS (Readiness In Base Services), and civil-engineering units to set up for the aircraft and the other people to follow. Such was the case at Clinton-Sherman for Carswell’s deployment.
A harsh winter left many leaks in the plumbing at Clinton-Sherman before the 7th Bomb Wing’s deployment. Second Lt. Jody McClarin and her team of fourteen civil engineers had to work about 1,500 man-hours to get them fixed. They also had to hang 10,000 square feet of sheetrock to make the place habitable. In addition, the CE unit removed five dead skunks (a sixth would later expire under a tanker) and machine-swept the runway to reduce the potential for foreign object damage (FOD). At a really austere base, the civil engineers would have to run plumbing and electricity and erect tents.
The former Officers’ Club at Clinton-Sherman has a complete kitchen and refrigerated storage (which CE had to fix on arrival). Otherwise, the RIBS teams would have had to do their cooking in one of the Mobile Kitchen Trailers (MKTs), each of which is able to provide meals for more than 400 people.
Most of the food at Clinton-Sherman, and all of the prepositioned food in the War Readiness Materiel (WRM) stockpiles in Europe and elsewhere, is dehydrated. The eight cooks on the Carswell deployment fixed breakfast, dinner, and midnight breakfast for the troops who worked on the late shift. “Out here everybody appreciates us, and that makes us feel good,” said SSgt. Loy Holmes, one of the food-service specialists on the deployment. “You never hear that back on base.”
Lunch, however, was a different story. To simulate wartime conditions, the menu offered an MRE (meal, ready-to-eat) or an MFF (meal, flight feeding). These latter-day C-rations are complete 1,200-calorie meals in brown plastic container-bags.
Base security is a primary concern, too.
“Our job doesn’t change, but the location does,” said MSgt. Alan Kiernan, the NCOIC of Carswell’s security police flight at Clinton-Sherman. “We arrive, look around, and post our people out. We concentrate around the resources [aircraft], but we make sure everything is covered.” The forty-four enlisted SPs and one officer on the deployment were all from one flight, so they were a cohesive unit. As in a wartime situation, the SPs set up a command and control center and entry control points.
The 7th BMW, with a relatively short haul to Clinton-Sherman, brought its ground equipment by truck. Tow tugs (called “Eukes” from Euclid, the name of one of the manufacturers), generators, and Mk 82 and inert BDU-50 bombs arrived by flatbed. Ground vehicles, such as buses and pickup trucks, were driven up, while the people and smaller equipment flew in on the KC-135 tankers.
Up and Running
As soon as Carswell’s B-52Hs arrived, they taxied over to the fuel depot, which was a regular stop after every mission. The fuel depot consisted of six 50,000-gallon bladders (2,000,000 pounds of fuel) with associated pumps and hoses set up near the ramp.
The rubber bladders are rugged enough for a person to stand on, and they come complete with wooden pegs to fill bullet holes—just in case. The contents of one bladder will just about fill up a B-52. It became a daily ritual to see twenty-five fuel trucks lined up to discharge their loads into the storage tanks.
The pumps weigh 15,000 pounds each and have a 600-gallon-per-minute capacity (meaning that one of them could drain a standard swimming pool in less than two minutes). The pumps have attached to them a Defense Fuels Agency credit card imprinter, so when refueling is complete, the receipt can be signed.
After fill-up, the planes were “Euked” down to their parking spots on the ramp. One of the oddities at Clinton-Sherman is that part of the ramp is used for automobile brake testing by the Wagner Brake Co. A single red line painted on the concrete is all that separates automobiles going eighty miles an hour from crew chiefs pulling chocks on a KC-135.
The 7th BMW’s maintenance crews were probably the hardest working group at Clinton-Sherman. Ninety-four of ninety-five sorties got off on time. All aircraft had to be fully mission-capable (FMC) every day.
“It was a race to see if we could have the part ready in the three to five minutes it took from the time a crew chief radioed in for a part to when he picked it up,” said supply specialist MSgt. Kenneth MacKay. “We usually won.”
Supply kept ahead with a Combat Supply System (CSS) computer. It tracked the location and stock level of parts and also generated data on what is—and is not—needed in War Readiness Spares Kits (WRSK).
A full WRSK for a B-52 unit amounts to fifty-nine pallets of airlift cargo. That’s one reason why any wartime conventional deployment would send only seven aircraft. On this Clinton-Sherman deployment, a Mission Support Kit (MSK), which is about one-tenth of a full WRSK and consists of 52,000 pounds of spare parts, was utilized.
A B-52 can carry fifty-one Mk 82 (500-pound) bombs internally and on external pylons. The SAC Munitions Maintenance Squadrons build up the bombs (attach fuzes and fins) on a flatbed trailer with wooden rails. The truck is then parked near the airplane, and the bombs are rolled to the end of the trailer, where an MHU-83 loader (a ‘jammer”) is used to load them up into the bomb bay one at a time.
Because SAC bombers now fly lower and lower to stay out of harm’s way, a “slick” bomb on a low-level release would arrive on the target just as the releasing bomber passed overhead. Consequently, the bombs must be retarded (slowed down) so that the plane will clear the area before impact.
Using the Ballute
The BSU-49 high-drag fin unit uses a “ballute” (an air-inflated balloon parachute) to slow down the bomb. However, to prevent entanglement in the narrow confines of a B-52 bay, the ballute can’t be inflated until the bomb clears the airplane. This is accomplished through the use of an ingenious, B-52-particular device known as a belly band.
A munitions troop wraps the band around either a Mk 82 or a Mk 117 (750-pound) bomb and secures it with Velcro. As the bomb is released, the nose fuze is armed, and another wire (which would normally activate the ballute and the tail fuze) pulls on the belly band instead. After all seventeen feet (the height the top bomb in the bay must fall) of coiled wire in the band pulls out, the ballute deploys, and the tail fuze is activated after the entire bomb is out of the aircraft.
Almost all of the people in the support units worked twelve-hour (or longer) shifts at Clinton-Sherman, so sleep was a high priority. But recreation was a priority, too. “If there is a way, there is certainly a will,” said SMSgt. Mike Monti, the NCO Open Mess manager at Carswell and the head of Morale, Recreation, and Wellness (SAC has its own interpretation of the traditional MWR function) in Oklahoma.
Nonstandard recreation items brought along on this deployment included two videocassette recorders, a selection of 115 movies, and a jukebox. Normal MWR items like bicycles and softball bats were also brought. (The Carswell softball team beat a local one soundly.)
“There was some question about renting a satellite dish. It seemed to be violating the spirit of the deployment,” said Eighth Air Force’s Colonel Glazener. “But we figured that no matter where a unit went, they would get what they could off the [local] economy, so we said OK.” Sergeant Monti worked a deal with a nearby firm and, with profits from the all-ranks club, rented a satellite dish for $50 for the duration of the deployment.
“I am very impressed with all of the people on the support side,” said Maj. Greg Snyder, a B-52 radar navigator. “We pay lip service sometimes, but what they do does mean a lot to us. We know they are busting their chops, and that makes us want to do a better job.”
The Main Event
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome on a deployment is communications with higher headquarters and other units as well as receiving vital weather and intelligence information. That is where Air Force Communications Command’s AN! TSC-107 Quick Reaction Package (QRP) would come in.
This equipment deploys on the third day of a war and establishes initial high-frequency (HF) radio contact and teletype, AUTODIN, and shortwave (SHF) communications. It would also try to set up AUTOVON service. The QRP at Clinton-Sherman was a part of the 3d Combat Communications Group at Tinker AFB, Okla. This unit used tents during the entire deployment.
To meet some unique communications needs, SAC has developed three Combat Contingency Elements (CCEs). These units, which utilize the TSC-88 Command Post, have satellite communications (AFSATCOM) consoles like those on the E-4 National Emergency Air borne Command Post (NEACP) and on SAC’s EC-135 “Looking Glass” airborne command post.
“The missions we fly [on a deployment] are real go-to-war kinds of flights,” said 1st Lt. Karl Krotzer, a B-52 Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO). “There are no mission planning sessions. You get your package [target and route information], preflight, go out, and do it.”
The missions to the Nellis range allow the crews to see many more simulated threats and also lets them fly much lower (down to 200 feet) than they do in normal training. Flying in three-bomber cells at low level is another unique part of the training.
“There is more crew coordination involved on these missions,” said 2d Lt. Chris Moss, a B-52 copilot. “It’s almost like it is choreographed, and that is the way it is supposed to be. One mission on the range equals ten regular missions, and that is the value of them.”
For emission control (EMCON) purposes, communications and other electronic output are eliminated or kept to a bare minimum, except for severe weather or emergencies where safety becomes a factor. EMCON starts on the ramp, where the crews are cleared to take off by the use of tower lights instead of radio communications, and continues throughout the mission. These “Silent Warrior” procedures are vital to the element of surprise. The tanker crews also practice EM-CON and, in fact, refuel the bombers without saying a word.
What It All Means
“These deployments are expensive training, but they are very cost-effective,” said Colonel Thurston, who served as the deployment commander. “There is a lot of camaraderie, and a much closer working relationship comes out of it. Everybody gets involved.”
The deployments offer a valuable chance to learn. The various units do not bring all of their assigned people, so there were many opportunities for cross training. For example, carpenters taught civil engineers to hang sheetrock. “I’ve got some worker bees who had never held a live fuze before coming out here, so a deployment is good for them,” said MSgt. William C. Cochran, NCOIC of the Munitions Maintenance Squadron technicians.
The 7th Bomb Wing was the first unit to go back to Clinton-Sherman for a second turn of training. “The first time we did this, there were a lot of problems,” noted Colonel Thurston. “The first couple of days, we all stood around looking at each other saying, ‘What do we do?’ Since we had been here once before, this time we knew what to do, and it has been much easier—what to bring, what not to bring. To do this once [deploy], all you would do is identify problems, and you’d never do any work on fixing them.”
Although two-thirds of the people on the second deployment had not been on the first one, there were fewer problems. The entire wing jelled in a hurry because of the corporate memory of the core group. The wing also brought much less stuff this time, having learned from the earlier trip.
Every Eighth Air Force B-52 unit has now been to Clinton-Sherman at least once. Next to come are more ambitious exercises. This month, “Mighty Warrior” will deploy every B-52, FB-111, and tanker unit in Eighth Air Force and the headquarters section as well.
Originally, some units were to deploy to Europe as part of “Mighty Warrior,” but because of budget constraints, only the 42d Bomb Wing from Loring AFB, Me., will go overseas. Clinton-Sherman will be occupied by the 2d Bomb Wing from Barksdale AFB, La., and the 7th BMW will deploy to Hunter AAF near Savannah, Ga., during the exercise.
This deployment, which will be the biggest movement of Eighth Air Force assets since World War II, will end in a concentrated aerial bombardment by B-52s—more than fifty aircraft—on a single target complex at Nellis all within a period of two hours. This mission scenario was described by one Eighth Air Force official as a raid against “a target we want to get very badly.”
“When we deploy and when we’re out on the range, we know Soviet satellites are probably watching,” concluded Major Snyder. “But we are showing them that we can do this mission. It’s money in the bank. And that’s deterrence, too.”