Airmen from Air Force Global Strike Command recently took advantage of a multinational U.S. Southern Command-led exercise to hone their long-range reconnaissance capabilities.
The 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale Air Force Base, La., flew a B-52 Stratofortress bomber on a nonstop mission from the United States to the U.S. Southern Command area of operations Aug. 12 during PANAMAX 2014 – an annual U.S. Southern Command-sponsored exercise series that focuses on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal.
An almost entirely simulated exercise, the 15.5-hour long-range B-52 sortie, which originated at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and ended at Barksdale Air Force Base, was the lone exception. Flown by the 96th Bomb Squadron, the seven-person aircrew exercised providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to forces defending the Panama Canal from a myriad of threats.
“The Panama Canal is one of the most strategically and economically crucial pieces of infrastructure in the world,” said Col. Gregory Julian, U.S. Southern Command spokesman. “The 17 partner nations participating in this exercise benefit from the collaborative efforts to ensure the safety and security of the Panama Canal and this exercise is designed to test their responsiveness, foster cooperation, and increase interoperability among them.”
For Air Force Global Strike Command, PANAMAX is an opportunity to familiarize aircrews with the U.S. Southern Command region and train in a unique mission set not normally associated with bomber operations.
“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, chief of AFGSC’s Current Operations Branch. “PANAMAX is an excellent opportunity for our aircrews to exercise these capabilities in an operational training environment.”
For aircrews, the ability to work in an unfamiliar environment, hone ISR capabilities, and test aerial command and control capabilities during PANAMAX were invaluable.
“I had only worked in the SOUTHCOM AOR once before this exercise,” said Capt. Jonathan Morse, one of two aircraft commanders on the mission. “[PANAMAX] allowed crew members that have not operated in a different area of operations to gain valuable experience and bring that back to the B-52 community. I believe it also made SOUTHCOM better aware of our capabilities and confident that they can call upon our B-52s when in need.”
Morse’s fellow aircraft commander during the mission, Capt. Michael Marchand, agreed the training was valuable. “Going down south, working with our partners and helping build the global reach of our platform is a great experience,” he said. “It’s great to work outside a familiar AOR, build upon our expertise and be able pass that on.”
“In order to maintain the readiness of our forces, it is important to provide the opportunity for them to train and operate their capabilities in various geographical locations and environments,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Vander Hamm, commander of 8th Air Force (Air Forces Strategic), located at Barksdale Air Force Base, and the Joint Functional Component Commander for Global Strike, U.S. Strategic Command, located at Offutt, Air Force Base, Nebraska. “Having a U.S. bomber presence and participation in a variety of multinational and joint exercises also demonstrates U.S. commitment and capability and contributes to security at home and abroad.”