Tuesday, May 12, 2009

B-1B makes impact throughout Southwest Asia

Capt. Andre Walton runs a B-1B Lancer through its preflight checklist May 5 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Captain Walton is a 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron pilot. He is a native of Raleigh, N.C., and deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Joshua Garcia)

by Senior Airman Brok McCarthy, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Before late 2008, the B-1B Lancer was known primarily as a bomber, but since then the aircraft was modified to include the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod now provides nontraditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to ground forces.

"Before the B-1B was equipped with the sniper pod, we had to utilize extremely accurate coordinates from an off board source for most of our targeting solutions," said Lt. Col. Jen Fullmer, the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron commander.

"We have a capability to generate coordinates with our radar but not the highly accurate coordinates that we can generate with the sniper pod," said the colonel who is deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. "In addition, Sniper provides the crew fairly detailed infrared or TV image and a capability to locate and track targets, friendly positions, etc.

"Along with our legacy mission of weapons employment in a (close-air support) or interdiction role, we are now heavily engaged in missions such as (improvised explosive device) emplacement search, convoy support and armed overwatch of friendly positions," she said.

There have been instances where crews were monitoring a group of people in an area that is popular for IED placement, like an intersection, said Colonel Fullmer, a native of Wilton, Conn. They can generate accurate coordinates for the site and any other location the individuals go and pass it along to the joint termian attack controller so everything can be investigated.

After having been in theater for 90 days, the squadron has flown more than 285 missions and has had jets in the air for more than 3,380 hours. During that time, they have responded to approximately 170 incidents where servicemembers were in direct combat with the enemy. In many of those cases, simply the presence of a B-1B made a difference to the ground forces.

"There are times where you can tell in the JTACs' voices after we show up that they start to relax a little because they have an asset they can trust to employ precision munitions very quickly," said Maj. Sid Stegall, a 9th EBS instructor pilot. "The other thing is the enemy kind of knows what we do at this point too, so they don't want to make themselves a target that we have the ability to strike.

"There have been many instances where we haven't needed to (drop bombs) just because we are on scene," said the major from Pine Log, Ga. "Just because we are at an altitude where they can see or hear us, they know if they continue with their actions it's not going to end well for them. So there have been a lot of situations where there has been a troops-in-contact situation and we show up and everything just kind of stops."

Prior to the Sniper pod, the B-1B could only participate in a few steps of what the Air Force calls the "kill chain," the order of actions that must occur to complete an offensive action. In some instances, the squadron didn't drop a bomb because of collateral damage concerns. In these instances, they were able to watch the ground with the Sniper pod and pass information to other weapons platforms in the area that might be better equipped to act in the situation.

"During one of our recent missions, we supported (ground troops in combat) but we did not drop weapons because the friendly forces were engaged in a very close fire fight," Colonel Fullmer said. "Friendly forces were firing back at an enemy firing position in a small enclosure. One of the enemy soldiers escaped from the back of the building and we were able to track him with our Sniper pod, mark him with an infrared marker in order to highlight his position so a nearby Apache helicopter could suppress the threat. Since it was nighttime, we had the capability to put an infrared beam on the guy, which we call a sparkle. When someone looks through night-vision goggles, it looks like a laser beaming from our jet down to the target. So we sparkled the (runner) and alerted an Apache, who then picked the beam up on his night-vision goggles, came in with his guns and (eliminated the threat)."

Colonel Fullmer said she thinks the B-1B will have an enduring presence in the region and will continue flying missions as long as it is still a useful asset to the ground commanders.

"One thing remains clear in the minds of my Airmen is we are here to protect those men and women who are selflessly fighting this war on the ground in harm's way," Colonel Fullmer said. "If we prevent one fallen comrade ceremony, or just let one Soldier get a needed hour of sleep while we are making noise overhead to keep the enemy at bay, then we have done our job. Every person on this base has an important role in successfully accomplishing this critical mission."