The great bard William Shakespeare characterized the world as a stage in which a multitude of actors continually enter and exit. One such actor is the Eighth Air Force’s bomber force, which has steadily deployed for nearly two decades supporting operations like Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel, as well as continuous bomber presence operations within the Indo-Pacific region.
In fact, the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, flying 50-plus-year-old B-52s, just completed a nine-month continuous bomber presence rotation to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam — the longest bomber deployment of the 21st century.
April marked an important turning point for the “Mighty Eighth,” as all operational squadrons could be found at their home stations. The respite, however, was short-lived, as U.S. strategic bombers continue bomber task force missions in support of the National Defense Strategy-directed Dynamic Force Employment initiative.
The bomber task force approach, also known as BTF, offers a tailored support package of personnel and aircraft to enable combatant commanders’ objectives. The scalable nature of a BTF increases the number of possible operating locations due to its smaller and more agile footprint, which equates to greater flexibility for the distribution of bombers across all geographic combatant commands. The inherent flexibility of a BTF complicates potential adversaries’ decision calculus by projecting combat power from a variety of locations.
The distinctive attributes of BTFs are readiness enhancing: They return home more ready to fight than when they departed home station. The episodic nature of a BTF allows bomber forces to increasingly gain experience from operating with allies and mission partners more so than traditional long-duration deployments because of its proactive and scalable nature. Diverse locations offer varied operational experiences to aircrews by flying out of different airfields, executing long-duration sorties, and training with our allies. Operating from various locations also strengthens logistical chains on a global scale while offering opportunities for innovative maintenance tempos.
BTFs are also shorter when compared to typical deployments, yielding more training opportunities on various mission sets. In short, a bomber force can deploy, train with allies and partners, and then return stateside for focused exercises and training range opportunities.
April also marked the halfway point of the B-1B reset and saw the team return to the world stage as only the B-1B can. The reset, enacted by Air Force Global Strike Command after 17 years of high-operations tempo to restore combat capability, allowed for a host of readiness improvements, which enabled the team to execute several 30-hour round-trip flights to the Indo-Pacific region from their home base.
The initial gains from the reset also allowed the command to deploy a B-1B BTF to Andersen AFB in Guam. The B-1B reset was a community effort to restore the maintenance practices and sortie predictability for the airframe while right-sizing the B-1B mission and crew force to meet combatant commanders’ priorities.
The Mighty Eighth is taking a measured approach in returning the B-1B to operational status to prevent losing the hard-fought increases in aircraft reliability and availability. The method to unimpeded, global B-1B operations will follow a crawl-walk-run approach as the aircraft works with allies and partners, and eventually deploys to nonstandard operating locations.
The B-1’s limited return has reduced the operational tempo on the B-2 and B-52 communities, which were bearing the load of combatant commander taskings. Careful balancing of the operations tempo in the small and aging bomber fleet is critical as the U.S. Air Force acquires the B-21 Raider and transitions to a B-52 and B-21 fleet. Long-range standoff platforms are fundamental to America’s lead in the air throughout the 21st century, and they are foundational to our ability to project power and defend the nation.
The bomber force was home, but only for a short time. The world’s greatest bombers have again departed to deter and, if needed, compel adversaries. In line with Shakespeare, the stage remains the globe, and now the B-1B rejoins its fellow bomber fleets with dynamic and agile entrances and exits in multiple arenas.
Maj. Gen. James Dawkins Jr. is the commander of the Eighth Air Force and the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center.