Two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers dropped several 500-pound GPS-guided bombs on two terrorist training camps in Libya on Wednesday this week.
But the mission is most remarkable for the fact that a total of 15 in-air refuelling tankers from five different bases on three different continents were required to enable the 30-hour round trip from the bombers’ home base.
CAPTION: A KC-135 Strantotanker refuels a B-2 Spirit during a mission to bomb ISIL training camps in Libya. US Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Kate Thornton.
KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender crews provided aerial refueling support during the B-2 bomber mission which struck the two Daesh training camps in Libya on 18 January 2017.
The camps were believed to have been used to plan and train for attacks against US and allied interests in north Africa and Europe.
A total of 15 tankers participated in the operation, enabling the B-2s to fly the more than 15 hours to the target from their home base at Whiteman AFB, Missouri and 15 hours home again.
Planners at 18th Air Force and the 618th Air Operations Center at Scott AFB coordinated the tanker mission, ensuring the refueling aircraft were at the right place at the right time to get the bombers to and from the Daesh training camps.
“Our goal was to find the aircraft to do the mission,” said Lt. Col. James Hadley, 18th AF Operations Planner.
“The mobility enterprise flexed to put tankers from the US, US European and US Central Commands toward this effort. Everybody had a part in making this work, and it was very successful.”
The 305th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, was one of the units that contributed tankers to the refueling mission.
Col. Darren Cole, the 305th AMW commander, said several units had to come together from different locations and commands and function together as a team to make this mission happen.
“It’s a big team that has to execute things on time to make it work right,” he said.
“It’s pretty impressive to be able to hit a target globally at a moment’s notice with so many people participating.”
Making sure the tankers and bombers meet at the right place and time is like choreographing a Broadway production, Hadley said.
“When you get the request, you have to look at the whole enterprise,” he said.
“Some tankers may already be in the right spot, some may have to be moved.
“The speed of the aircraft are completely different, so they won’t all take off at the same time, and it takes several mid-air refuelings to make an air bridge.
“If one person is off, the whole mission can go awry.”
Col. Clint Zumbrunnen, 305th Operations Group commander, said the 305th AMW keeps two aircraft on continuous alert just in case such a mission should come up.
“The crews grow up here being conditioned for short-notice missions, to show up, plan and get the fuel to the fight,” Zumbrunnen said.
“Our Current Operations team is also particularly skilled at making operations happen on short notice.
“It makes us particularly well-equipped to do this sort of mission.”
Hadley said the stakes could be high.
“If a tanker fell out you might have seen on the news how a couple of bombers had to land somewhere in Europe,” he said.
“Or even worse, you might have seen a news report about two bombers lost in the North Atlantic.
“Our tanker fleet enables them to do what they do.”
Cole said he was proud of the role his airmen played in this mission.
“As always, they do an outstanding job when their nation calls upon them to do the tough tasks,” he said.
“And it came off extremely well.
“It’s air refueling that puts the ‘global’ in ‘global strike.’”
The Libya strike is just one example of how the command facilitates the tanker war against Daesh, said Brig. Gen. Lenny Richoux, 18th AF vice commander.
“The air bridge our planners and tanker crews create enable US and allied strike aircraft to continuously hit Daesh, or any enemy, no matter where they hide,” Richoux said.
“Missions like this one are merely one of many executed every day.”