B-52 Defends Panama Canal in Exercise

? A B-52 bomber from the 96th Bomb Squadron flew a 15.5-hour, non-stop mission in support of US Southern Command’s annual PANAMAX exercise in which participants practice defending the Panama Canal. The bomber, with an augmented crew of seven for the special intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission, flew on Aug. 11 from Ellsworth AFB, S.D., to Central America and then recovered on the following day at Barksdale AFB, La., the bomber’s home station, according to a release. The Barksdale crew provided intelligence to SOUTHCOM personnel conducting the mostly simulated exercise to safeguard the strategically and economically vital canal. The crew practiced a mission not normally associated with the bomber. “The B-52 can be modified with additional equipment that allows it to be an especially valuable ISR platform because of its ability to conduct long-range surveillance flights,” said Lt. Col. Robert Bender, Current Operations Branch chief for Air Force Global Strike Command. The mission also provided the aircrew experience in operating in a different geographic area, said Capt. Jonathan Morse, one of the mission commanders. It also made SOUTHCOM “better aware of our capabilities and confident they can call upon our B-52s when in need,” said Morse.