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Inert weapons dropped for first time in Koa Lightning exercise

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steven Wilson
  • 36th Operations Group Public Affairs
The 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron here went "wheels up" for exercise Koa Lightning Sept.16 and 17.

But this exercise is a little different than previous Koa Lightnings. For the first time, bomber aircrews dropped ordnance.

"Dropping inert munitions over the bombing range in Hawaii is a tremendous training improvement for our crews," said Col. Damian McCarthy, 36th Operations Group commander. "While our previous simulations conducted during training are top-notch, I can tell you as an aviator myself that absolutely nothing beats dropping ordnance on a target in terms of training value, especially for our younger aircrews."

The actual ordnance dropped for these training scenarios are painted concrete. So, while they offer great schooling for aviators they won't actually explode.

"The weapons we're dropping have GPS guidance," said Capt. David Leaumont, 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-52 instructor radar navigator and participant in Koa Lightning. "We're dropping in remote areas of Hawaii, so they're accurate and a safe training munition for the populace and environment."

But the flyers aren't simply suiting up and heading to Hawaii. It involves a very long day.
"Long durations of at least 18-hours," said Captain Leaumont. "Anytime we're employed in the Global War on Terror, we're going to fly long sorties like these Koa Lightning ones. We rarely fly over 10-12 hours, but our actual combat durations are usually 17-19 hours." 

Captain Leaumont said the sortie itself, plus two hours of pre-flight and one or two hours of post-flight briefings make a training sortie like this easily turn into a 22 to 24-hour day.

And he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Long duration sorties train our aircrew to remain vigilant for the whole duration," he explained. "We also get to work in close air support with the joint tactical air controllers, which help as we respond to Army troops being harassed (by enemy combatants)."

During their stay here, the 20 EBS has force integrated with KC-135s, KC-10s, F-15s and F-16s. There have also been joint combat search and rescue training missions with the Navy's helicopter squadron, HSC-25.

"The training here is above average when comparing it to training in the United States," explained Captain Leaumont. "It's very valuable for the JTACs working with us and for the United States itself as we're able to show the flag in the Pacific and get our green aircrew used to long duration sorties."

Colonel McCarthy said it all boils down to raw combat power with a global reach.

"This opportunity is great," explained Colonel McCarthy. "We're experiencing real-time force integration between the fighters, the JTAC's on the ground, and our tankers. This gives us the opportunity to become more proficient in the way we will fight and will make integration in combat that much easier. Our Airmen will be much better prepared to take the fight to the bad guys, I promise you that."

The continuous rotational bomber presence is aimed at enhancing regional security, demonstrating U.S. commitment to the Western pacific, and providing integrated training opportunities.