Bomber in a Box: ACE exercise showcases BOCS capability

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Chase Sullivan
  • 2BW/PA

Four B-52H Stratofortresses from the 2nd Bomb Wing deployed north to practice Agile Combat Employment concepts during an exercise August 16-19 at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.

However, this was no ordinary bomber exercise. Not only did the ACE mission practice innovative cargo operations, but it also demonstrated a unique approach to delivering organic maintenance support.

ACE exercises practice distributed operations from dispersed locations to increase survivability while generating combat power. This defensive posture increases the scope and scale of friendly force locations, boosts deterrence to adversary aggression and assures allies by presenting a credible combat force.

“As we modernize our bomber force and bridge to the future, how we tailor and project our bombers will ultimately help assure our allies and partners and deter U.S. adversaries,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Gebara, Eighth Air Force and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center commander.

The B-52 On-Board Cargo System, or BOCS, is a cargo container that connects to the operational bomb bays inside the aircraft. The cargo system is capable of holding up to 5,000 pounds of maintenance and support equipment. Each deploying B-52 can carry two BOCSs for an airlift capability of 10,000 pounds total and can decrease, or even possibly eliminate, the need for en-route cargo support.

“The original concept for BOCS was to create the opportunity for maintenance and operations to tactically ferry anything necessary to help make our constant bomber presence successful,” said Master Sgt. Anthony Williams, 2nd Bomb Wing Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent.

While the exercise took place at Fairchild AFB, the maintenance personnel from the 2AMXS started their portion of ACE at Barksdale. They packed the necessary repair, maintenance and replacement equipment into the BOCS before flying with the aircrew to Fairchild.

Aircrews from the 96th Bomb Squadron flew four B-52s. Each bomber transported a mobile maintenance team and a BOCS to practice the capability of landing, rearming and repairing the aircraft anywhere that has enough runway.

“When paired with five onboard maintenance members per aircraft, you have a self-sustained logistics capability able to support ACE by assuring successful aircraft regeneration at a contingency location,” said Maj. Jason Snedeker, Air Forces Strategic-Air Logistics chief of aircraft maintenance.

This ACE exercise accomplished a rapid relocation of armed forces and combat assets. Bombers using this maneuver could achieve a strategic fighting position while keeping Airmen and vital equipment out of harm’s way.

Although Fairchild presents an opportunity to employ bomber ACE at a new location, the B-52s are no stranger to the base. Fairchild was once home to the B-52s. Their final departure on May 25, 1994 signified the end of the 92d Bomb Wing mission there.

This exercise marks the first time a B-52H has operated at Fairchild since its runways were refurbished in 2010.

“Fairchild is a great location because it simulates a relatively unfamiliar environment similar to how a real-world ACE mission could be flown,” said Maj. Ryan Koelling, Air Forces Strategic-Air Operations chief of future ops. “Additionally, the lack of on-station bomber-specific equipment and support infrastructure has forced both aircrews and maintainers into the mindset of operating as an independent team with only the equipment and personnel they brought on board.”

Unlike some large-scale Bomber Task Force missions, bomber ACE operations would not alert locals and adversaries to upcoming missions. The use of BOCSs on ACE missions decreases the large footprint and avoids exposing mission preparation activities.

“Thanks to their efforts, we have proven the ability to put significant firepower on target without the large footprint we are used to seeing and the adversary is used to seeing well in advance of our operational movement,” said Gebara.

BOCSs are not new to Air Force Global Strike Command. They have been traditionally used for training exercises and airshows, and all three B-52 bomb wings have the systems. However, using the BOCS for this ACE exercise proved they could be presented as another tool for combatant commanders.

“The BOCS approach is a force multiplier, similar to a bomber quick response team, which would give combatant commanders the option to launch, recover, and turn an aircraft for a follow-on mission from a non-bomber location with minimal ground and maintenance support,” said Gebara.