EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Go lean or go home.
That was the strategy adopted by leadership of the 345th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron when the call went out in late July for B-1B Lancers to accomplish an emergent Bomber Task Force mission out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The unit, based at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, took fewer than 60 Reserve and active-duty Airmen from the 307th Bomb Wing and 7th BW in support of the BTF.
The Total Force Integration package returned to Dyess AFB Sept. 30, after completing 19 sorties in eight mission days, using only three bombers.
Col. Christopher Hawn, 345th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron commander, said taking such a lean package to perform the mission was a calculated risk, but a necessary one, since the unit had less than 45 days to put troops in theater. He credited the drive of the unit’s Airmen and their ‘fight-for-yes’ ethos with the mission’s success.
“Everyone kept pushing hard, they were almost too motivated,” he said. “That is a good problem to have.”
That motivation allowed aircrew and ground support Airmen to gain familiarity working with multiple Geographic Combatant Commands, accomplishing sorties in international airspace throughout the Arctic, to include the East Siberian Sea and the Norwegian Sea, and as far south as the Sea of Okhotsk between Russia and Japan.
It also helped them train with the Norwegian air force, highlighting the interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies and partners.
Lt. Col. Andrew Marshall, 345th EBS director of operations, spearheaded planning for the deployment. He said the lean approach was a key advantage, reducing complexity in logistics, planning, and administration.
“It set the benchmark for what Agile Combat Employment and Dynamic Force Employment should look like,” he explained.
Marshall added that factors such as location, mission objectives, and competing priorities always impact the size of a deployment package, but the 345th EBS effort proved adjusting to those variables may reduce the need to deploy hundreds of Airmen for future BTF missions.
“A package this lean may not work in every scenario, but it creates a point from which to deviate for future planning”, he said.
Hawn pointed out having fewer Airmen also helped meet the 2018 National Defense Strategy objective of being strategically predictable and operationally unpredictable.
“It reduces your signature so you can get somewhere fast and operate very quickly, which is a quality of its own,” he said. “It opens up the door to a host of new possibilities about where you can operate from.”
Operating from Eielson allowed the unit to reduce its footprint, because elements such as security and other aspects of Base Operations Support (BOS) were already in place. It also provided a strategic advantage geographically, allowing the unit to move quickly between different theaters of operation.
Having fewer Airmen also lessened the potential for the COVID-19 pandemic to disrupt the mission, said Lt. Col. Sandeep Gill, 345th EBS flight surgeon.
“Fewer people made it easier to keep this unit separated from our hosts, and we were very successful in doing that,” said Gill. “It decreased the chance of contracting and spreading the virus for us and for our hosts.”
Marshall hopes lessons learned during this BTF mission will generate new ideas on how to quickly and efficiently project bomber airpower around the globe.
“We are quickly adapting to this new employment paradigm in the bomber enterprise,” he explained. “The Air Force Chief of Staff has made it clear that we must move out on such vectors with a purpose in order to maintain the strategic advantage, and we will continue to use such opportunities to do just that.”
For more coverage of this mission, visit the USEUCOM website at https://www.eucom.mil and on the 307th Bomb Wing official website at https://www.307bw.afrc.af.mil.