Ample Strike 2016

RAF Fairford, UK

For the second time in 2016, the normally dormant RAF Fairford was increased from standby to active status in preparation of hosting long range bombers from the United States Air Force. Such is the strategic importance of RAF Fairford; it provides the perfect location to host these types of aircraft as a forward operating base (FOB), allowing them to participate in NATO led exercises within Europe. The purpose of their presence on this occasion was to engage in Exercise Ample Strike 2016, an operation the AIA team were invited onto RAF Fairford to understand more about:

 

Exercise Ample Strike – ‘The Big Picture’

Ample Strike is a multi-national Close Air Support (CAS) exercise specifically designed to train and exercise Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC’s). Hosted by the Czech Republic, additional participation was built up of a further 15 NATO and Partner Nations from Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and the United States. Many of these nations deployed units and operated directly from military bases throughout the Czech Republic.

Starting on the 30th August, ground units began setting up the battlefield to manipulate the all-important scenarios they would be put through.  An estimated 1,500 troops and military personnel combined from all nations to create an environment which handed itself perfectly to the training of JTAC and Forward Air Controllers. The training of these specialist JTAC teams begun on the 5th September when the air element of the exercise begun, combining air assets from seven of the participating nations.

Of course the primary goal of this exercise was to provide the invaluable training of JTAC/FAC teams, but as with every year, another purpose the exercise serves is to demonstrate the Czech Republic’s ability to act as host nation in support of a large congregation of NATO and Partner Nation troops. This was further emphasised with the conclusion of the exercise culminating with the NATO Airshow Days at Ostrava Air Base, where many of those participating were on show to the public. The final debrief and wrapping up of the exercise took place on the 20th September.

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Ample Strike at RAF Fairford

As mentioned, one of the nation’s participating in Ample Strike was the United States, with both air and ground units involved. The main focus of this article covers the United States Air Force participation staging specifically out of RAF Fairford. This detachment as alluded to at the beginning was made up of three long range bombers; two Rockwell B-1B Lancers’ and a single Boeing B-52H Stratofortress operating under the 307th Bomb Wing from Barksdale Air Force Base. The 307th is the parent unit of which further squadrons fall under command, in the case of this deployment aircraft from the 489th Bomb Group (1x B-1B from Dyess AFB), the 28th Bomb Squadron (1x B-1B from Dyess AFB) and the 93rd Bomb Squadron (1x B-52H from Barksdale AFB). As has become common with these deployments, we normally expect to see support flights arrive a week before with various personnel, equipment and supplies. This was not the case with Ample Strike, as much of the support equipment was in fact transported on board the aircraft within bomb bays set up with transport pods. Commander of the 489th Bomb Group Colonel Denis Heinz spoke to us regarding this deployment, emphasising the focus on how a purposely deployed small sized force can be highly effective.

''Part of what we wanted to do with this was to show that we could bring three bombers and a very small force; you know we don’t need 200-300 people to do this. We can get three bombers across the pond in theatre, with right around 100 people. In fact we brought a few extra people you know, so we could actually get a little leaner if we had to''.

 

The frequency of aircraft involvement from RAF Fairford as dictated by the exercise was a single aircraft on a daily basis, rotating between a B-1B and B-52H each day. When on station, the USAF bomber crews were taking instructions from the JTAC teams on the ground, identifying and guiding the aircraft onto targets which provides great training for all concerned, something B-52 pilot Captain James Bresnahan, 11th Bomb Squadron was keen to highlight:

''We operate using joint procedures which are shared across all the [participating] nations which is beneficial to all parties. All the controllers get training on the ground, their readiness is increased and they have air operability so they get to meet other nations and it provides us training overhead as well so we get to work with them''.

 

To be a Joint Terminal Attack Controller demands a high level of concentration from an individual, thus making their task very important considering their job is to guide in air strikes in support of ground troops. They must do this in the heat of battle, being very precise and clear when describing targets so all parties involved are certain of where they need to be. When asked about the performance of JTAC teams on Ample Strike, Colonel Denis Heinz couldn’t speak highly enough about those he had experienced in the early days of the exercise:

''I flew Monday and that was a lot of fun. We spent a litter over two hours on the range working with, I don’t know which nation they were from, but he was a phenomenal controller and gave great direction. It’s very hard in an aeroplane looking down at something whilst someone else is on the ground looking at it and trying to describe what you’re looking at whilst trying to talk you onto target, so they did very well''.

 

All attack runs throughout the exercise were simulated, meaning the need for live or dummy ordinance was unnecessary. A typical sortie duration would last close to 5 hours from wheels up to recovery, with each providing around 6-7 runs of identifying, acquiring and locking onto target. Further discussions with Col. Heinz revealed a bit more detail into what exactly the crews were being tasked to do whilst on an Ample Strike sortie:

''We are not necessarily going for the numbers [on this exercise], because a lot of what we were doing yesterday was communication you know tracking vehicles, you find me yeah I found you, so we get roughly 6 or 7 runs in two hours. I was actually pretty amazed at how good they [the JTAC controller] was, I mean when I used to fly with the B-52 and tried telling the guy what I was seeing and he goes that’s not it… so I sparkled the target and he replies yes that’s it, it was hard back then. Now flying the B-1 with the Block 16 upgrades the technology makes it so much easier, I think we had one miscommunication on our last mission; the target was next to what looked like a traffic circle, so I asked are you parked next to the traffic circle? So he’s like it’s not a traffic circle that’s not me, but he should have been thinking it’s a circular road, so we came back around and described it a little better – turns out that was him''.

 

As we have come to experience with the United States Air Force, the professionalism and dedication to the job shown by the airmen was overwhelming. We hope the commitment from the USAF to exercises such as Ample Strike continues for years to come allowing us to enjoy their presence here in Europe. Aviation in Action would therefore like to extend our thanks to the following for their assistance in making this article possible:

  • 1st Lt. Krystal Jimenez (501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs, RAF Alconbury)
  • 1st Lt. Monique A. Roux (USAFR Deputy Chief – 307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs and Protocol, Barksdale AFB, LA)
  • TSgt. Nicholas Filip (307th Bomb Wing Public Affairs and Protocol, Barksdale AFB, LA)
  • Col. Denis Heinz (Commander – 489th Bomb Group, Dyess AFB, Texas)
  • Capt. James Bresnahan (Pilot – 11th Bomb Squadron, Barksdale AFB, LA)
  • Capt. Brent Kerns (Instructor Electronic Warfare Officer – 11th Bomb Squadron, Barksdale AFB, LA)
  • Capt. David Skelonc (Instructor Weapons System Operator – 11th Bomb Squadron, Barksdale AFB, LA)
  • Maj. Colby Platner (Instructor Pilot – 93rd Bomb Squadron, Barksdale AFB, LA)
  • Lt. Col. Bryan McClanahan (Commander – 345th Bomb Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas)

 

 

Credits: Article and photography by Aaron Paxton