B-1B Crew Details Mission Against Leadership Target
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 8, 2003 It might have been "The Big One."
The mission that a B-1B crew flew April 7 may have killed Saddam Hussein and his sons. The crew comes from the 405th Air Expeditionary Wing deployed in the region.
Defense officials will only say that the bomber crew went after "senior regime leaders," and will not say if the Iraqi dictator is alive or dead.
But, whether they killed Saddam or his sons or one of his henchmen, the mission was a great demonstration of the flexibility the air coalition brings to the battle.
The B-1B, called the "Lancer" by the Air Force and the "B- ONE" by crews, had just refueled when the call came in, said Air Force Lt. Col. Fred Swan, the weapons systems officer aboard the aircraft.
The crew aboard the Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft that gave them the mission called it "the big one," Swan said. "When we got the word that it was a priority leadership target we immediately got an adrenaline rush, but then you fall back to your training that says, 'Hey let's get the job done.'"
The B-1B crew had to act quickly, the colonel said. The time from receiving the mission to putting bombs on the target was 12 minutes, Swan said. "There are four crewmembers on the B-1 and we all have our separate jobs to do, but we have to work in concert to make this happen."
As the weapons officer, he had to input the coordinates and delineate the weapons that would be used. He checked the coordinates three times, he said. "For me, what I was thinking was 'Well, this could be the big one, let's make sure we get it right," Swan said.
But it was more than one plane putting four bombs on a target. In addition to the AWACS support, the B-1B had to have air-to-air refuelers. "We can't make anything happen unless we have tankers up there to give us the gas," Swan said.
Plus, Air Force F-16CJs were there to provide suppression of enemy air defense, and an EA-6 Prowler accompanied the Lancer to provide surface-to-air radar jamming.
Finally, there are the ground forward-air controllers who actually put their eyes on the target. "I don't know who that was, but he had to be there for us to get the coordinates," Swan said.
The aircraft pilot, Capt. Chris Wachter, said dropping the Joint Direct Attack Munition is much like a sniper using a rifle. "One shot, one kill," he said. "We don't want to go spraying bullets, we don't want to go spraying bombs."
Wachter said there's not a lot of time during a bombing mission. "You're sitting around waiting for something and you get the call, and it becomes 'go-time' really fast," he said. The B-1B flew in above 25,000 feet at between 400 and 500 knots.
"The key is not just the target, but to be 100 percent accurate on what weapons to put on it.
"And then 'Oh by the way,' we're going into an area that we're going to get shot at," he said.
He said once the bombs release "that's a good feeling and it lasts for about three seconds." That's because the aircraft has to get out of the high-threat environment.
"When you get back and you find out what the target is, it's a feather in your cap, but I want you to know that anyone in my squadron has the ability to go in and do this," he said. "It just so happens we were the lucky ones."
"Coming off the target itself, I personally was never prouder to be in the Air Force, if actually this is the Big One," Swan said. "Everything went as advertised, the weapons came off and we knew we hit the target."
The B-1Bs are from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. They have a mission-capable rate in theater of over 90 percent, said Air Force Col. James M. Kowalski, the 405th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.
Kowalski said that the aircraft flew only 5 percent of the sorties during Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan, but dropped 40 percent of the tonnage. "I think when we do the math at the end of this one, it's probably going to be pretty close," he said.
The colonel said the unit has had B-1Bs airborne over Iraq since before this campaign started, and they are there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "At any given time I have an airplane up there flying over Iraq, I've got an airplane heading up, and I've got an airplane heading home," he said.
This gives coalition planners up to 72 JDAMs to put on targets. "That's incredible flexibility when you look at our loiter time, our range and our ability to dash it is a supersonic bomber," Kowalski said. "We're sort of an airborne 9-1-1 force: We get there in a hurry and put bombs on the target."