By Bennie J. Davis III, Airman Magazine
/ Published January 11, 2021
U.S. Navy Carrier Air Wing (CVW) Five F/A-18 Super Hornets, Marine Corps Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 F-35 Lightning IIs, all assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, and a U.S. Air Force 37th Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer assigned to Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., conduct a large-scale joint and bilateral integration training exercise on Aug. 18, 2020. Photo: Staff Sgt. Peter Reft
A crew chief from the 148th Fighter Wing recovers a Block 50CM, F-16 while deployed in support of a NORAD tasked Operation NOBLE EAGLE mission. NORAD conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in the defense of North America. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Tom Krob)
148th Fighter Wing aircraft maintenance personnel prepare a Block 50CM, F-16 Fighting Falcon prior to its deployment to another location within the continental Unites States in support of a NORAD tasked Operation NOBLE EAGLE deployment. NORAD conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in the defense of North America. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Audra Flanagan)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Austin Buller, 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, reads technical instructions during a training flight over the Black Sea May 29, 2020. Participation in multinational exercises enhances our professional relationships and improves overall coordination with allies and partner militaries during times of crisis. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)
A B-1B Lancer assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Force Base, South Dakota, receives fuel from a Turkish air force KC-135 Stratotanker during a Bomber Task Force mission over the Black Sea May 29, 2020. Bomber missions enable crews to maintain a high state of readiness and proficiency, and validate our always-ready global strike capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Magbanua)
F-22 Raptors escort a B-52 Stratofortress during a North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) mission, June 14, 2020. NORAD routinely conducts intercept training in support of its mission to protect the sovereign airspaces of the United States and Canada. (Courtesy Photo)
1st Lt. Claire Waldo, 12th Missile Squadron missile combat crew commander, conducts a dry-run for a test launch in the Launch Control Center Feb. 3, 2020, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The 576th FLTS is America’s only dedicated intercontinental ballistic missile test squadron professionally executing tests that accurately measure the current and future capability of the ICBM force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aubree Milks)
Col. Omar Colbert, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander, holds an interview session with media to explain the purpose of the intercontinental ballistic missile test launch program and its role in the nuclear mission Feb. 3, 2020, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The 576th FLTS is America’s only dedicated ICBM test squadron professionally executing tests that accurately measure the current and future capability of the ICBM force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aubree Milks)
52nd Fighter Wing Airmen prepare for an Agile Combat Employment exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 23, 2020. Deployments and exercises demonstrate the U.S. military’s contribution to regional security and reassure allies and partners of their commitment to Europe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melody W. Howley)
Three B-52H Stratofortresses take off at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, June 2, 2020. During flight, the B-52s will perform integrating and interoperability training with Norwegian aircraft over the Arctic Ocean and Laptev Sea. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alyssa Day)
Airman 1st Class Jarrett Warrick, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, prepares a B-52H Stratofortress for takeoff at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, June 2, 2020. During flight, the B-52s will perform joint and combined training, exercises, and operations to help mitigate and reduce security risks associated with increased human activity in the Arctic. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alyssa Day)
From left, Airmen 1st Classes Rubio Steven and Ian Arriaza, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs, prepare a B-52H Stratofortress for takeoff at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, June 2, 2020. The B-52s are conducting a long-range, long duration strategic Bomber Task Force mission throughout Europe and the Arctic region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alyssa Day)
U.S. Air Force crew chiefs assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, conduct maintenance on an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) on the Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, March 8, 2020. The JSTARs forward deployed to PSAB from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar as part of an agile combat employment mission meant to test the squadron’s ability to conduct missions in the region from an austere location. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Charles)
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Niles Bartolome, 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshals an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) on the Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, March 8, 2020. The JSTARs forward deployed to PSAB from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar as part of an agile combat employment mission meant to test the squadron’s ability to conduct missions in the region from an austere location. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael Charles)
A B-1B Lancer from the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, prepares to receive fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, during a Bomber Task Force Europe mission over Sweden, May 20, 2020. Operations and engagements with our allies and partners demonstrate and strengthen our shared commitment to global security and stability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Emerson Nuñez)
A U.S. Navy MH-60S Knighthawk, U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk, Navy MQ-4C Triton, Air Force B-52 Stratofortresses, and KC-135 Stratotankers stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, perform an "Elephant Walk" April 13, 2020. The Elephant Walk showcases the 36th Wing's readiness and ability to generate combat airpower at a moment's notice to ensure regional stability throughout the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Michael S. Murphy)
Twelve U.S. Air Force F-16CM Fighting Falcons, 12 Koku-Jieitai F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, two U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers, a USN C-12 Huron, two USAF MC-130J Commando II aircraft, and a USN P-8 Poseidon participate in an “Elephant Walk” at Misawa Air Base, June 22, 2020. The Elephant Walk showcased Misawa Air Base’s collective readiness and ability to generate combat airpower at a moment's notice to ensure regional stability throughout the Indo-Pacific. This was Misawa Air Base’s first time hosting a bilateral and joint Elephant Walk (U.S. Air Force photo by SSgt Melanie Bulow-Gonterman)
A B-52H Stratofortress from the 23rd Bomb Squadron supported an international mission over the Arctic, June 2, 2020. The Arctic is a strategic region with growing geopolitical and global importance. Strategic bomber missions enable crews to maintain a high state of readiness and proficiency to validate our always ready global strike capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman)
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Aaliyah Tucker, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels facilities operator, carries a fuel hose on the flightline at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Jan. 22, 2020. Tucker participated in an Agile Combat Employment exercise to ensure wing readiness and deter aggressors. A small team of 52nd Fighter Wing Airmen shipped cargo, loaded munitions, and refueled F-16 Fighting Falcons while participating in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye)
U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron unload a trailer on the flightline at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Jan. 22, 2020. 52nd Fighter Wing Airmen forward deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to conduct an Agile Combat Employment exercise. The wing plans to conduct ACE exercises at other locations in the future to generate aircraft in any environment and deter aggressors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye)
The active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings conducted an F-35A Combat Power Exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Jan. 6, 2020. The exercise, which was planned for months, demonstrated their ability to employ a large force of F-35As -- testing readiness in the areas of personnel accountability, aircraft generation, ground operations, flight operations, and combat capability against air and ground targets. A little more than four years after receiving their first combat-coded F35A Lightning II aircraft, Hill's fighter wings have achieved full warfighting capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
Airmen from the 90th Maintenance Group are responsible for maintaining and repairing ICBMs on alert status Dec. 18, 2019, within the F.E. Warren missile complex, as they are one of three missile bases part of Air Force Global Strike Command. The Minuteman III, on alert at all three bases, replaced the Peacekeeper at F.E. Warren in the 1970s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abbigayle Williams)
A U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and six F-16 Fighting Falcons from Misawa Air Base, Japan, conduct bilateral joint training with four Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2's off the coast of Northern Japan, Feb. 4, 2020. U.S. Strategic Command’s bomber forces regularly conduct combined theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners, demonstrating U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Melanie A. Bulow-Gonterman)
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 a.m. Pacific Time Oct. 2, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Peterson)
Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, dons his helmet before take-off during an Agile Combat Employment exercise on the flight line at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 25, 2020. USAFE-AFAFRICA continuously exercises ways to improve the U.S. passive and active defense capabilities that ensure the U.S. advantage in resiliency and protect our assets and personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Branden Rae)
52nd Fighter Wing leadership greets Gen. Jeff Harrigian, second from left, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, before the start of an Agile Combat Employment exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, June 25, 2020. Engagement incorporating ACE concepts in less-than-optimal environments improves interoperability among forces and helps allies and partners increase their capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Branden Rae)
Joint air-to-surface standoff missiles are loaded into a 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer on the flightline at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, May 9, 2020. The B-1Bs carry the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
Staff Sgt. Zakk Bunting, 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew member, prepares to load a joint air-to-surface standoff missile into a B-1B Lancer on the flightline at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, May 9, 2020. The B-1B can carry more than 74,000 lbs of munitions, which is the largest payload in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
Senior Airman Vincent Llubit, 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew member, grabs hearing protection off of a trailer that held two joint air-to-surface standoff missile into a B-1B Lancer on the flightline at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, May 9, 2020. The B-1B can carry more than 74,000 lbs of munitions, which is the largest payload in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
Senior Airman Shelby Ries, 7th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion mechanic, loads an engine onto a trailer at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, May 3, 2020. The B-1 has four engines that can produce 30,000 lbs. of thrust each. Four B-1Bs deployed to Andersen as part of U.S. Strategic Command’s support to the National Defense Strategy objectives of strategic predictability and operational unpredictability by using a mix of different aircraft to and from various dispersed U.S. bases and other departure and arrival points, to include Guam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
7th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron B-1B Lancer aircraft mechanics prepare to load an engine at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, May 3, 2020. The B-1 carries four engines that help it reach speeds of more than 900 mph. A Bomber Task Force of four B-1s and approximately 200 Airmen deployed to Andersen as part of the Air Force’s dynamic force employment initiative. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
Senior Airman Jae Sajonas, 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer assistant crew chief, drags wheel chocks on the flightline at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, May 14, 2020. Chocks prevent the aircraft from moving or swaying. Approximately 200 Airmen and four B-1s assigned to the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB, Texas, deployed to support Pacific Air Forces' training efforts with allies, partners and joint forces; and strategic deterrence missions. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Senior Airman River Bruce)
A 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer conducts a training mission in the vicinity of Japan where they integrated with Japan Air Self Defense Force assets, May 12, 2020. The 9th EBS is deployed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, as part of a Bomber Task Force and is supporting Pacific Air Forces’ strategic deterrence missions and commitment to the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman River Bruce)
A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 34th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron departs after conducting an aerial refueling with A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron above the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 3, 2019. The KC-135 Stratotanker delivers U.S. Air Forces Central Command a global reach aerial refueling capability to support our joint and coalition aircraft, providing war-winning airpower throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Senior Airmen Cutter Delarosa, left, and Tyler Holzinger, both B-2 Spirit crew chiefs assigned to the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, await the completion of a pilot preflight check below their aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, June 17, 2020. Two B-2s took off from Whiteman AFB to support a long-distance training mission that demonstrates U.S. capability to command, control and conduct operations around the globe in support to allies and partner nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)
The B-2 Spirit “Spirit of Indiana” performs touch-and go training, as the B-2 “Spirit of Hawaii” taxis toward the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, June 17, 2020. The Spirit of Hawaii is slated to support U.S. strategic long-range bomber operations. Air Force Global Strike Command is conducting operations globally, demonstrating the command’s ability to provide flexible options and project combat power while supporting all combatant command priorities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 a.m. Pacific Time, Oct. 2, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The test demonstrates the United States’ nuclear deterrent is robust, flexible, ready and approximately tailored to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong)
Staff Sgt. Gerald Styles, 60th Security Forces Squadron Raven, provides security for Airmen as they complete an Agile Combat Employment experiment at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Japan, Feb. 20, 2020. The Ravens secured the aircraft and enabled Airmen to accomplish their tasks in order to successfully complete their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)
C-130J Super Hercules aircraft pilots with the 41st Airlift Squadron from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, compete preflight checks prior to taking off during an Agile Combat Employment experiment at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Feb. 20, 2020. Airmen from Little Rock AFB, Dyess AFB, Texas, and Kadena AB conducted the training at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in order to test their capabilities to move personnel and equipment to austere locations at a moment’s notice to complete a variety of missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Owsianka)
U.S. Air Force 52nd Fighter Wing weapons loaders pick-up an AIM-120 missile during an Agile Combat
Employment exercise, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Jan. 14, 2020. The ACE concept is intended to
increase the operational capability available to ensure and enhance security and stability across Europe.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua R. M. Dewberry)
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing, C-130s and Airmen assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing, and Airmen assigned to the 435th Contingency Response Squadron, participatie in an Agile Combat Employment exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, May 28, 2020. Agile Combat Employment ensures U.S. Air Forces in Europe, along with allies and partners, are ready for potential short or no-notice contingencies by allowing forces to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support. This ensures Airmen and aircrews are postured to respond across a spectrum of military operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Joshua R. M. Dewberry)
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing, C-130s and Airmen assigned to the 86th Airlift Wing, and Airmen assigned to the 435th Contingency Response Squadron, participate in an Agile Combat Employment exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, May 28, 2020. Agile Combat Employment ensures U.S. Air Forces in Europe, along with allies and partners, are ready for potential short or no-notice contingencies by allowing forces to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support. This ensures Airmen and aircrews are postured to respond across a spectrum of military operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Joshua R. M. Dewberry)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Nevada Martin, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load team
member, operates a bomb lift truck to attach an AIM-120 missile onto an F-16 Fighting Falcon during an
Agile Combat Employment exercise at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Jan. 14, 2020. This exercise
simulated a forward deployed environment for operating without prepositioned equipment. (U.S. Air
Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua R. M. Dewberry)
U.S. Air Force 52nd Fighter Wing ammunition line delivery crew members deliver chaff and flare
countermeasures during an Agile Combat Employment exercise, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany,
Jan. 14, 2020. ACE exercises are meant to deter and ensure readiness for any potential short-notice
threat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua R. M. Dewberry)
The Defense Department defines deterrence as, “the prevention of action by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction and/or belief that the cost of action outweighs the perceived benefits.” In theory, it’s the threat of force not the actual use of force, communicated to an adversary. There are two basic methods to deter an adversary. One is deterrence by punishment, or plainly, “if you attack us, we’ll destroy you.” The other is deterrence by denial. This method focuses on making the enemy’s objective more difficult to achieve, by rendering the target harder to take, harder to keep or both during the act of aggression.
In the 20th century and throughout the Cold War, U.S. deterrence primarily focused on the nuclear capabilities of the Soviet Union and the doctrine of mutual assured destruction on both sides.
In the Post-Cold War era, the traditional “threat-based” posturing against a well-known specific foe gave way to Capability-Based Planning posture to develop technology to defeat a generic enemy like terrorist and extremist groups, rogue states and other potential adversaries inside a volatile security environment.
Now, with the emergence and modernization of Russia and China, the National Defense Strategy defines the great-power competition with these near-peer rivals, not terrorism, the primary focus of U.S. National Security.
“China is on a trajectory to be a strategic peer to us by the end of the decade. So, for the first time ever, the U.S. is going to face two peer-capable nuclear competitors,” said Navy Adm. Charles A. Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, adding Russia is the other peer. “We have never faced that situation before.”
Richard, speaking to the Nuclear Deterrence Forum sponsored by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, also stressed that defining deterrence in 2020 can be difficult, noting that “strategic deterrence is more than just nuclear deterrence, particularly now, today. It is non-kinetic space, cyber; it’s your conventional piece of this. All of this has to be integrated together. It’s not just a STRATCOM job, it is all combatant commands. And we have to be able to rethink the way we do business,” he said. “We’re going to have to change the way we think about deterrence.”
Across the Air Force restructuring, modernization and advances in technology are at the forefront of priorities to meet today’s threats defined in the NDS.
As long as nuclear weapons exist, there will be no mission more important in the Air Force than maintaining the nation’s nuclear capability and ensuring strategic deterrence and assurance options. Air Force Global Strike Command demonstrates this operational readiness and reliability through strategic weapons’ tests, exercises and operations of two parts of the America’s nuclear triad, strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
“Maintaining the credibility and readiness of our strategic capabilities requires a long-term, visible commitment to sustainment and modernization, and we are well under way with that,” said Gen. Timothy M. Ray is Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command and Commander, Air Forces Strategic – Air, U.S. Strategic Command.
Deterrence goes hand-in-hand with having a credible force of ready bombers and ICBMs, capable of communicating to potential adversaries that the cost is not worth it, and that restraint is a better option, said Ray. As a force provider, the strategic deterrent capabilities and options we provide our nation’s leaders are foundational to our national security, assuring our allies and supporting the nation’s non-proliferation objectives.
The changing nature of the threats to American and allied security interests has stimulated a considerable broadening of the deterrence concept. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review calls for the modernization of America’s nuclear deterrent, while providing flexible capabilities designed to deter adversaries across a diverse set of potential contingencies.
Ray said the use of emerging technologies to discredit and subvert democratic processes in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is concerning enough; but, when coupled with Russia’s expanding and modernizing nuclear arsenal, the challenge is clear.
“We’re on track with our modernization programs and in the meantime, we continue to move forward with investing in multiple improvements to ensure continued readiness in today’s combat environment. The B-21 is under development and will replace much of the legacy bomber fleet,” said Ray. “However, we must continue to sustain and modernize the B-1B, B-2, and B-52H until sufficient B-21 aircraft are operational. We plan to start retiring the existing bombers when there are sufficient B-21 aircraft in place to replace them.”
With regards to our ICBMs, the as-yet named Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent
(GBSD) is on track to end its technology maturation and risk reduction phase in 2020. A preliminary design review was held in late April and the review advanced the program toward its next milestone and acquisition phase. The Air Force anticipates receiving DoD approval to enter Milestone B later this year and awarding the contract for the engineering and manufacturing development phase before the end of the current fiscal year.
Fifty years ago, on Aug. 19, 1970, Strategic Air Command placed the first flight of 10 Minuteman III ICBMs on alert at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, and shortly after its emplacement at the 741st Strategic Missile Squadron, Minuteman III has stood watch as the nation’s strategic deterrent.
This noteworthy occasion was the byproduct of the Air Force’s nine-year Minuteman Force Modernization Program governing the replacement of all deployed Minuteman I (A and B) ICBMs with either Minuteman II or Minuteman III missiles.
“Until GBSD comes online fully, we must continue to take the actions necessary to ensure Minuteman III remains a viable deterrent for the Nation,” said Ray. “We all owe a large debt of gratitude to the missileers, maintainers, security forces and countless others, who held the watch over the past generation. However, the Minuteman III is 50-years-old. It’s time to modernize and bring on the GBSD.”
Adapting the Agile Combat Employment framework to AFGSC assets provides the ability to deploy bomber aircraft to unfamiliar locations on short notice, in a similar fashion to what’s been done with other air platforms.
“The ACE concept isn’t new, but the application to bombers is, which means in a sense we’re reshaping the way in which the Air Force is able to respond to the challenges of today and tomorrow,” said Ray. “We must ensure an agile, mobile, modern and lethal bomber, missile and command and control force while operating out of austere locations that are unprepared, moving from one location to the next with the smallest footprint possible.”
A number of bomber ACE exercises were conducted over the past year with both the B-52H and B-1B, allowing rapid deployment to unfamiliar locations and self-sustainment. Air Force “Strikers” demonstrated they are fully capable of generating global power, anytime, anywhere and at a moment’s notice.
“Our Western Alliance has no bombers, or open bomber production lines. Nor does our Alliance have any ICBMs or ICBM production lines. The 156 bombers and 400 ICBMs operated by Strikers are all our nation has to compete, deter and win when it comes to strategic victory,” Ray said. “We have the ability to stand-in, or standoff, making it clear to the joint warfighter and our allies that we have their backs.”
Throughout the European theater the Air Force is restructuring and rewriting the playbook on how to deter adversaries to any short-notice threat with the concept of Agile Combat Employment.
ACE ensures U.S. Air Forces in Europe and our partners are ready for potential contingencies with little notice by allowing forces to operate from locations with varying levels of capacity and support, ensuring Airmen and aircrews are postured to respond across the spectrum of military operations.
Basham explained that due to the dynamic nature of the agile operations, ACE demands a ready and resilient joint all-domain command and control (JADC2) architecture. When we use these two things together, ACE and JADC2 greatly enhance our ability to conduct combat operations with speed and operational unpredictability.
Along with the ACE concept, the Defense Department recently announced restructuring of its forces in Europe to deal with today’s threats, said Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Air Force will begin winding down U.S. operations at Germany’s Spangdahlem Air Base, pulling out Air Force F-16s and canceling plans to move tankers and special-operations forces.
Hyten said personnel will be moving back to the United States to improve readiness, but our Airmen will be deployed back around the European theater on a rotational basis to allow better be posturing to threats.
“You’ll see Poland be a more active partner, you’ll see Romania be a more active partner, [and] you’ll see the Black Sea area more active because that’s where we improve our deterrence versus Russia, which was [Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper’s] No. 1 priority,” Hyten said.
After the military is done with the restructure, the largest number of forces will still be in Germany, he said, calling Germany “a critical ally.”
Air Force strategic bombers are also deployed across the European theater supporting joint and coalition integration and interoperability helping to extend deterrence.
“Our Bomber Task Force missions demonstrate U.S. commitment to the collective defense of the NATO alliance, and are a visible demonstration of extended deterrence. The last iteration of BTF is a great example of our reach, with some of the CONUS-to-CONUS missions lasting approximately 23 hours. Additionally, integrating with multiple partners within Europe we are able to maintain readiness through training with our NATO allies, partner nations, and other U.S. Air Force and joint units,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa commander.
Hyten believes if DOD and its allies can do all of this together it creates a huge advantage for the future joint combined force, and it will create huge challenges for competitors around the world to try to figure out how to deal with it.
“It’s pretty exciting to see,” he said.
Within the Indo-Pacific, deterrence in many forms plays a critical role in day-to-day operations.
Strategic bombers in the theater play a multitude of roles. Beyond the strategic deterrence that is often associated with bomber aircraft, bombers provide our allies and partners an assurance that reinforces the U.S. commitment to regional stability, security and extended deterrence.
“Our efforts help strengthen our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to a networked security architecture capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains,” said Brigadier General Michael Winkler, Director of Strategy, Plans, and Programs, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces. “This together with allied partners brings a deterrent force to the theater, giving adversaries pause.”
Demonstrating airpower, bomber and fighter aircrew assigned and deployed to Pacific Air Forces launched four B-1 Lancers, two B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers, and four F-15C Eagles and conducted Bomber Task Force missions simultaneously with joint and allied partners within the Indo-Pacific region over the course of 24 hours, August 17.
“Our unique strength as an Air Force is our ability to generate integrated actions with our joint teammates and allies and partners to challenge competitors in a time and place of our choosing,” said Gen. Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces commander. “These simultaneous airpower missions demonstrated our capacity and readiness to deliver a wide range of proactive, scalable options to quickly deploy our forces to support our mission of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific theater.”
While the two BONES were en route to the Sea of Japan another set of two B-1s took off from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
In addition to the two sets of bomber missions, four F-15C Eagles from Kadena Air Base, Japan, also made their way to the Sea of Japan to integrate with the four B-1s, the U.S. Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, F-35 Lightning IIs assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, and F-15J aircraft from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to conduct large force exercise training.
“High end, integrated training with our Air Force peers enhances our capability to respond to any contingency, and meet any challenge,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. George Wikoff, Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group commander. “U.S. joint integration demonstrates our unwavering commitment to regional defense agreements with our allies and partners.”
Upon completion of integration and training, the fighters returned to Kadena while the two B-1s returned to their home station in South Dakota and the other two returned to Dyess.
“U.S. strategic bomber forces project strength and deter regional threats to our free and open Indo-Pacific. Integrating Marine tactical aircraft allows us to demonstrate the advantages created by our own unique capabilities and support these important assets,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. “Our joint aviation team is unmatched in its ability to command and control the missions required in this complex and dynamic global environment. We are committed to our allies and partners across the region.”
In the Indian Ocean, the Spirits conducted joint interoperability tactics training before returning to Diego Garcia.
The first display of airpower came when two B-1s from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas took off from Dyess and flew to the Sea of Japan. Once there, they integrated with the Koku Jieitai JASDF, and further strengthened relationships by training together.
“The Koku-Jieitai has participated in bilateral training on a continuous basis, and I have no doubt that our efforts result in strengthening the Alliance and partnership between Japan and the U.S.,” said JASDF Lt. Gen. Shunji Izutsu, Air Defense Command commander. “Training in a complex situation like this large force employment improves not only tactical skills, but also interoperability and mutual trust.”
The Air Force announced in April it will no longer base strategic bombers outside of the continental United States, marking an end to the service’s 16-year continuous bomber presence at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
But before the last bomber left the island, USAF reminded the world of its combat power with an impressive “elephant walk” that included five B-52 strategic bombers, six KC-135 tankers, an MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter, an RQ-4 Global Hawk, and a U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton.
“U.S. strategic bombers will continue to operate in the Indo-Pacific, to include Guam, at the timing and tempo of our choosing,” said AFGSC in a statement. “We will maximize all opportunities to train alongside our allies and partners, to build interoperability, and bolster our collective ability to be operationally unpredictable.”
The transition to a “dynamic force employment” model allows the bombers to operate from a “broader array of overseas locations” with greater resilience, while keeping the aircraft permanently based in the U.S., AFGSC said.
The National Defense Strategy directs the Joint Force to ‘introduce unpredictability to adversary decision-makers through Dynamic Force Employment.’ Dynamic Force Employment allows us to develop a wide range of proactive, scalable options and quickly deploy forces for emerging requirements while maintaining readiness to respond to contingencies.
There are three critical characteristics of dynamic force employment: unpredictability, agility, and proactive deployments.
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, as well as our components and regions, are conducting our no-fail mission of defending our homeland,” Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said during a telephone news conference.
Under Operation NOBLE EAGLE, the name given to all air sovereignty and air defense missions in North America, F-22s, supported by a KC-135 Stratotanker, intercepted two Russian IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft entering the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone in the late hours of June 24.
“For the fifth time this month, NORAD has demonstrated our readiness and ability to defend the homeland by intercepting Russian military aircraft entering our Air Defense Identification Zone,” said O’Shaughnessy. “The mission assurance measures we are taking to protect our people ensure we are meeting the challenges and operating through the COVID-19 environment to defend our nations, just as NORAD forces have for more than 60 years.”
NORAD continues to track and remains ready to respond to North Korean missile activity as well. North Korea launched a short-range missile March 29, which was identified by the Japanese coast guard. North Korea also had launched three missiles March 9, and two additional missiles March 21.
Both the Russian aircraft and the North Korean missile launches are considered typical activity, rather than an effort to take advantage of any ill-conceived perception the U.S. military capability might be diminished due to COVID-19, O’Shaughnessy said. Rather, he said, he believes Russian activity is part of an ongoing effort to probe and check the U.S. ability to respond.
“We just wanted to make it very clear to them — which we did by the way we intercepted them — that there are no vulnerabilities as a result of COVID-19,” the general said. “We are postured to maintain that ability to respond at a moment’s notice and have no degradation in our ability to defend the homeland.”
The same is true of North Korea, he said.
“We have seen continuous activity,” he told reporters. “It’s not necessarily outside of the realm of historical norms, especially given some of the significant dates that have gone by. And so, as always, we’re ready to defend the homeland with the ballistic missile capability, defense capability, to be able to respond.”
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