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Deployed B-52s complete counter-sea exercise

by Senior Master Sgt. Don Perrien
36th Expeditionary Operations Group

1/18/2007 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNEWS) -- Usually, naval mines are placed at sea by dedicated ships traveling days from their home port. However, Airmen deployed to Guam's Andersen Air Force Base showcased the B-52 Stratofortress bomber's capability to quickly and accurately deliver naval mines while flying at 1,000 feet above the sea.

The 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., completed a five-day counter-sea exercise Jan 19, dropping 100 inert mines into the Pacific Ocean over the Marinas Trench.

"This exercise allowed us to hone our wartime flying skills, and practice the techniques we would use in an actual combat mission," said Capt. Doug Farley, 23rd EBS Training Flight commander.

During the exercise, the aircrews arrived at their B-52s before dawn. The aircrew performed pre-flight inspections by flashlight and under the glow of the runway lights.

Just after sunrise, the heavy bombers headed north from Guam and met with KC-135 tanker aircraft from the 506th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron to practice aerial refueling procedures. The 506th EARS tankers from MacDill and Grand Forks Air Force Bases trained with the bombers prior to the mining exercise.

"Aerial refueling is one of the most perishable skills for pilots and is an important force-multiplier for the projection of air power," Captain Farley said. "During this deployment, we have had great support from the tanker community and have been able to practice this important skill set on just about every flight, helping our pilots to maintain their proficiency."

Once the B-52s had a full tank of gas, the aircrews began their counter-sea mission. First, the bombers performed a preliminary safety clearing pass over the target area to ensure no unauthorized surface vessels would be endangered during the actual mining runs.

"We actually had a couple of ships that looked like they were heading into the mining area," said 1st Lt. Patrick Godinez, a B-52 electronic warfare officer assigned to the 23rd EBS. "We took a look at them, and then made sure they left the area before we started our run."

Once the area was clear, the B-52s prepared for low-level mining passes.

Skimming the ocean at approximately 1,000 feet and reaching speeds near 400 mph, the B-52s released their payloads - Mk-62 "Quickstrike" inert aerial mines. These mines are just like their operational counterparts, except the inert mines have a core of cement instead of an explosive charge. To the aircrews, the inert mines were a perfect simulation of the real thing.

"When we released the mines, you could feel the plane pull back as they released," said Lieutenant Godinez. "It was a real challenge flying these missions in the low-level environment."

One of the keys for success of the five-day exercise was in the maintenance of the assigned mission aircraft. All of the B-52s assigned to the mining missions departed on schedule without a significant mechanical write up.

"I think every crew chief looks forward to launching our B-52s for these types of missions, and the aircrews trust us to provide them with a mission-ready aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Downs, a crew chief assigned to the 36th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "The weapons crews did a good job with the inert mines, and it made our jobs pretty easy for these missions."

The counter-sea exercise concluded a five-month deployment to Andersen AFB in which the 23rd EBS flew over 200 missions, logged nearly 1,600 hours and dropped 750 munitions.

"I am extremely proud of the professional manner in which our Airmen completed this mining exercise as well as their overall performance during our deployment to Guam," said Col. Tom Gilbert, 36th Expeditionary Operations Group commander. "Our Airmen continue to display the versatility and capability of the B-52 on a daily basis, and the importance of maintaining a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region."

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