SAC Trains the Way It Would Fight

Feb. 1, 1982
Strategic Air Command has made sweeping changes in its training philosophy during the past few years. Particularly affected are the crews of the aging B-52. In an increasingly complex battlefield environment, these crews face far more potential challenges to their airmanship and professional expertise than their predecessors faced in the mid-1970s.

To meet these challenges, SAC emphasizes more realistic training at all levels of command. Maj. Gen. Andrew Pringle Jr., SAC’s Chief of Staff, describes the new training philosophy: “Some believe more and better equipment is all that is needed to have an effective fighting force. Often overlooked is the key element of a fighting force—the individual who operates the equipment. The individual must be able to extract the full capability of the machine in order to beat the enemy in his machine. This is why we train hard, why we train often, and why we train the way we will fight.”

Parallel with the evolution of the new training philosophy, SAC has given top priority to significant technological improvements in the B-52. The offensive avionics system, for example, will increase the accuracy and reliability of the bombing/navigation system. Integration of the cruise missile will enhance B-52G survivability and flexibility. But the ultimate effectiveness of these improvements will depend heavily on the ability of the crews to operate the system in combat.

On the other hand, emphasis on readiness has been timely because the modernization effort will not be completed until the mid-1980s. And rapid Soviet modernization of defensive weaponry against the B-52’s antiquated technology simply does not justify the luxury of conservative training techniques. A review of today’s training innovations and future initiatives should comfort the skeptics about the effectiveness of the “old BUFF.”

Exercising Contingency Missions

The B-52 was originally designed as a high-altitude delivery platform for nuclear weapons, but it has been proven in several nonnuclear applications, particularly in delivering massive conventional firepower during the Vietnam War. After the war, SAC sought to rebuild its nuclear capability and refocused B-52 training almost entirely on the traditional nuclear role. In the past several years, however, it has again taken advantage of the B-52’s versatility by including both nuclear and nonnuclear roles in its wartime mission.

B-52Ds are used most frequently for nonnuclear operations. Of the three active B-52 models (D, G, and H), the B-52D is best suited for conventional bombing because it has external racks and a reconfigured bomb bay capable of carrying larger conventional payloads than the newer G and H models. The B-52G is tasked primarily with the nuclear mission. The newest of the B-52s (“new” being a relative term here) is the B-52H, which performs both nuclear and nonnuclear roles. The B-52H will eventually assume the command’s nonnuclear commitment as the B052Ds are phased out of service in coming years.

To use the B-52 effectively in its nonnuclear role, SAC started training programs similar to those used by Tactical Air Forces to test capability in actual theaters of potential conflict. One such program is Busy Brewer, which normally involves three to fight B-52s deploying to the UK to support NATO exercises throughout Allied Command Europe. These two- to five-week deployments, which are conducted several times per year, provide units’ staffs and aircrews the opportunity to plan, brief, and execute B-52 conventional exercise missions from forward operating bases in the UK. In addition, B-52s regularly participate in Pacific theater exercises. For example, in Team spirit, in support of Combined Forces Command, Korea, several B-52D crews from CONUS joined crews from the 43rd Strategic Wing on Guam. Flight profiles used allowed the practice of nonnuclear tactics that would help sustain contingency operations in the Pacific area. Recent creation of the Strategic Projection Force (see January ’81 issue, p. 26) expanded SAC’s role in any worldwide contingency—to support the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force by employing airpower over great distances on short notice. Two B-52H wings of the 57th Air Division at Minot and Grand Forks AFBs, N.D., are assigned this mission in addition to their primary nuclear mission. SAC selected the B-52H for this role because of its long range and updated penetration capabilities.

The Strategic Projection Force capability was displayed for the whole world during November’s Exercise Bright Star in Egypt, when six B-52Hs of the SPF flew nonstop from North Dakota to the Western Desert of Egypt. After entering Egyptian airspace, the crews practiced low-level tactics and ECM against Egyptian fighters. Upon reaching the target, the B-52s dropped their conventional bomb loads and returned nonstop to home base, thus successfully completing a thirty-two-hour mission with five aerial refuelings. The 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing also played a key role in Bright Star, by providing an EC-135 to the RDJTF commander for command control and communications support.

To prepare the SPF units for this mission, SAC initiated a no-notice exercise, Busy Prairie, in late September 1980. In the exercise, Minot deployed its B-52Hs to a forward operating base at Whiteman AFB, Mo.; forward operations were simulated at Grand Forks AFB. Mobility teams were quick to establish a “bare-bones” support base at Whiteman. Support crews subsequently launched sixty-eight sorties in three nights. The objective was to attack three simulated airfields on the Red Flag range near Nellis AFB, Nev. The crews used low-altitude penetration to bomb targets while under simulated attack by various ground threats and aggressor aircraft.

The short-notice nature of these exercises places great demands on both aircrews and support personnel, because SAC’s nuclear alert commitment has not diminished and its resources have not been substantially increased. Obviously, the new training also requires dedicated staffs and maintenance personnel.

Frequent Training Improves Tactics

Following the Vietnam War, SAC entered a period of severe constraints on B-52 training. First, guidelines for conserving aviation fuel forced marked reductions in flying. This policy was particularly significant to SAC because the eight-engine B-52 is the largest consumer of fuel in the Air Force inventory. Second, the war’s end left large overages of rated officers requiring flight training.

In response, SAC experimented with alternate methods of conducting B-52 training. Earlier training was conducted by formed crews without considering proficiency differences among the six members. This resulted in some inefficiency because “older heads” generally needed less training than the less-experienced. Thus, in 1975, SAC implemented a concept that emphasized an even flow of training using multiple proficiency levels for B-52 aircrew members. The concept, however, proved very difficult and cumbersome to manage.

In July 1976, SAC returned to training aimed at meeting the needs of crews as units. Unit commanders were given the flexibility to allocate scarce training resources to less-experienced crews while maintaining the experienced crews at acceptable proficiency levels. Although the concept improved training flexibility, another scheduling problem remained.

This stemmed from the tendency to conduct small number of long missions, about three per month. This program requires a longer interval between flights than desired and diluted overall quality of the aircrews. To alleviate the problem, SAC investigated increasing the average number of flights per crew from nine to twelve in a calendar quarter. Although flights would be shorter, crews would concentrate on key training, such as low-altitude penetration and weapon delivery. The program would provide more frequent flights and allow greater flexibility in apportioning sorties to crews needing them.

Since additional maintenance capability was lacking. SAC headquarters devised a procedure for reducing the impact of increasing sorties: Supervisors would pick the better of two aircraft launched early in the day for a subsequent sortie, with the initial crew briefing the second crew on aircraft status while minimum maintenance was performed.

Successful Tests

Following tests at Fairchild AFB, Wash., and Griffiss AFB, N.Y., between September 1978 and February 1979, each reported increased crew coordination and low-level bombing and navigation proficiency. Crews found the shorter sorties less fatiguing, and proficiency improved because of more frequent repetition of tasks. This success led SAC to implement the concept command-wide.

Another important change has provided greater diversity in low-altitude routing. Schedulers traditionally chose routes as near as possible to their bases to reduce transit flying time. This deprived crews of essential experience with diverse targets because they attacked the same targets time after time. SAC resolved this problem by “pairing” B-52 units to increase diversity. For example, Blytheville AFB, Ark., and Fairchild AFB, Wash., might be “paired.” Each calendar quarter, crews from the “paired” bases fly a low-level route near the other’s base. The sorties end at the “paired” base to eliminate transit time returning home. Subsequently, the crews fly a return mission, again over an unfamiliar low-level route to home station. In addition to the “first-look” benefits such flights provide, crews have the opportunity to operate with staffs of different units and from unfamiliar airfields.

Although diversity and increased training have improved proficiency, SAC requires crews to “train the way they will fight.” It has structured training to simulate the combat environment within safety bounds. This requires practicing combat tactics in training exercises, daily operations, and operational readiness inspections.

Realistic Combat Training

Perhaps the best-known training exercise is TAC’s Red Flag, held at a military test range near Nellis AFB, Nev. B-52 crews have participated regularly in Red Flag since 1976.

At Red Flag, the B052 crews practice defensive tactics under simulated combat conditions, as do TAC crews. For example, they frequently deal with threats from TAC’s “aggressor” aircraft by initiating appropriate defensive actions. Additionally, ground threats are simulated by the range’s surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft artillery radars. These realistically test the ability of the crews to react correctly and positively in the bomber’s defense.

The exercises also enable crews to practice navigation and weapon-delivery tactics at low altitudes. B-52 crews flying at Red Flag can operate over rugged terrain at altitudes necessary to penetrate the simulated threats. The payoff is the improved coordination within the crew that results from reacting to the stresses of this demanding environment.

The Red Flag experience ahs been such that SAC is now participating in Maple Flag, a similar exercise in northern Canada. In this, B-52 crews fly over vast, unpopulated areas covered with thousands of lakes, geographic features that don’t exist in the US. Maple Flag also provides for tactical forces to practice air intercepts against the penetrating B-52s.

A third exercise, related to the nuclear mission, is Global Shield, which involves SAC’s entire force of reconnaissance, tanker, and bomber aircraft, as well as its support and staff organizations. Conducted in the summers of 1979 and 1980 and in January 1981, Global Shield simulates the emergency war order (EWO) mission from early preparation through execution. Global Shield ’81 also included a contingency exercise for the B-52Ds and Hs. It has been remarkably effective in correcting deficiencies in previously untested plans. After the first exercise in 1979, Gen. R.H. Ellis, then-CINCSAC, commented: “Initial evaluation of the exercise indicates that all of our objectives were achieved. Everyone had an opportunity to gain valuable training in the performance of our EWO mission and, at the same time, to help identify ways to improve our plans and procedures.”

This was especially true in B-52 operations. For the first time in many years, for example, large numbers of B-52 crews executed minimum interval takeoff (MITO) procedures. The MITO procedure requires close spacing between aircraft on takeoff to speed departure under attack. Prior to Global Shield, only two or three aircraft normally practiced these procedures. During Global Shield, crews flew most of the aircraft in their units, more than twenty in some cases, to accomplish MITO. The exercise helped identify and correct problems associated with MITO and also improved the confidence of the crews in its execution.

Additional realism was introduced in late 1979 with terrain avoidance (TA) training over mountainous areas at night. TA is a system that projects a portion of the B-52’s radar energy ahead of the aircraft at low altitude. The beam reflects off the geographic contours and the return is converted into an electronic “terrain trace.” Maintaining this trace coincident with a reference line ensures a preset altitude above the terrain.

Before 1979, SAC limited such night training. Yet skillful execution of this tactic could be required during a combat mission.

Although crews have always practiced TA in daytime, night training is beneficial because of the lack of visual cues forces crews to use information presented in the cockpit and rely less on external references. Thus, increased use of TA presentations has led to a better instrument interpretation and improved TA performance both day and night. Second, increased dependence on TA cockpit presentation has prompted crews to evaluate more critically the TA equipment, helping maintenance personnel to analyze and correct malfunctions.

Most importantly, however, the night training has increased crew confidence in their ability to accomplish the wartime mission under other conditions that restrict visibility, such as adverse weather and thermal curtains. (Thermal curtains would be used in combat to cover the window areas to protect the crews from the heat and intense light of nuclear weapons.)

Encouraged by this nighttime TA success, SAC recently lowered minimum altitudes in low-level operations both day and night. Of prime importance, however, is safety. The squadron commander must certify each pilot’s proficiency before unrestricted flight. This, coupled with the common sense of supervisors and crews, is essential to maintain a safe flying environment.

The Role of ORIs

Operational Readiness Inspections determine the readiness of SAC Units to accomplish their wartime mission. Normally, units “generate” all aircraft of full alert status, and crews then fly simulated wartime missions without nuclear weapons. These flights involve low-altitude penetration of a predetermined target area and electronic scoring of simulated releases of nuclear weapons.

Before 1979, these “releases” were scored on the basis of a fixed circular radius from the target. Scores inside the circle were “reliable” deliveries. Conversely, any outside were “unreliable” and counted against a unit’s bombing effectiveness.

This arbitrary measurement also limited assessments of a unit’s combat effectiveness. In combat, a large miss distance could result in damage to “soft targets,” but would probably cause insufficient damage to “hard targets.”

SAC’s scoring system now accounts for these variables through statistical tools that measure probabilities of bomb damage against both types of targets. Probabilities are also assigned to other important variables, such as pre-launch survivability, weapon system reliability, and defense penetration. The cumulative effect of each variable leads to the final score—damage expectancy—which provides the mathematical probability of success for judging the combat readiness of a unit.

The new scoring system gives SAC commanders a much clearer assessment of crew performance. Former SAC Inspector General Maj. Gen. R.A. Burpee said, “The formula measures total performance beginning with the battle staff and permeating throughout the unit.” Another recent event demonstrated SAC’s interest in realistic evaluations.

In December 1979, a no-notice deployment of fourteen B-52H aircraft from Ellsworth AFB, S.D., to Guam reflected a dramatic departure from other ORIs. Previous inspections tested a unit’s nuclear mission and were conducted in CONUS, but the Ellsworth inspection tested the capability of an entire unit to respond rapidly over great distances. Moreover, the B-52 crews practiced nonnuclear tactics instead of the usual ORI nuclear procedures. And, early in 1980, the remaining three B-52H units subsequently flew similar no-notice deployments to Guam as part of their ORIs.

Whether they participate in ORIs, daily training, or joint and combined training exercises, today’s B-52 crew members engage in more realistic training than their predecessors were able to do. In the process, they have become a force of highly proficient crews able to perform multiple roles across the combat spectrum.

Future B-52 Training

The realistic training philosophy also provides a sound foundation for the future, but is costly in fuel. For example, the consumption rate during a typical low-altitude run is roughly ten to fifteen tons per hour. This rate will increase pressures to reduce training hours; thus, SAC is actively seeking ways to maintain readiness while reducing flying costs.

One such program is the Weapon System Trainer (WST), to be installed at each B-52G/H unit in the early 1980s. The first unit became operational at Castle AFB, Calif., in late 1981. The simulator has three stations, duplicating each crew station in the aircraft. The pilot’s station has six-degree motion and full visual capability, and the navigator and defensive stations can each be used independently or integrally with the other crew stations. Once all are operational, the simulators should enhance training and increase overall aircrew proficiency.

Another SAC proposal includes a facility similar to that at Red Flag, but on a broader scale. Crews would rotate periodically to a strategic training center that teaches combat tactics, both in the classroom and through an intensive flying schedule. The SAC staff frequently refers to this as the future “SAC Graduate School of Flying,” and is working to begin operation of such a center in the near future. its range complex in Montana is already operational.

Maj. Bruce Eickhoff is an instructor pilot and flight commander in the 62d Bombardment Squadron of SAC’s Eighth Air Force, Barksdale AFB, La. His total flying time of nearly 3,800 hours includes more than 1,270 in the B-52 and nearly 1,700 as an instructor. Commissioned through ROTC from the University of Nebraska in 1968, he earned his pilot’s wings in 1969. He flew as an instructor on T-38s, then in EB-66s, including a combat tour in Southeast Asia in the latter aircraft. He was an aircraft commander instructor pilot on B-52Gs, 1974-77, and an air operations staff officer at SAC headquarters, 1977-80, before attending the Air Command and Staff College, from which he graduated in 1981.