Andersen B-52s, KC-135s support Cobra Gold Published May 21, 2007 By Capt. Joel Stark Cobra Gold Combined Joint Information Bureau JOMTIEN, THAILAND -- Airmen from the 96th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, currently deployed to Andersen, added a critical air component to the assets of U.S. and Thai military members in exercise Cobra Gold this week in the Kingdom of Thailand. The Airmen used the B-52 Stratofortress bomber's range and versatility to train with the Royal Thai Air Force in air intercept exercises and then with U.S. Marine and RTAF attack controllers in close-air-support exercises. Although it is the oldest aircraft in the Air Force inventory, the B-52's durability and wide variety of high-tech munitions have made it a lethal component of operations such as Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. At a rate of two-a-day for four days, bomber crews flew non-stop from Guam to the Gulf of Thailand where Royal Thai F-5s out of Surattani province attempted to intercept them on their way to a simulated target. In a second air intercept exercise, Thai F-16s from Korat honed their skills and so did the B-52 crews as the bombers penetrated the airspace over central Thailand. In addition to the combined nature of the first two exercises, the final leg of Cobra Gold's bomber exercise added the challenge of joint Air Force and Marine operations. In the close-air-support exercise, the B-52s provided bombing to protect ground forces. U.S. Marines joint terminal attack controllers called in the air strikes with Royal Thai Air Force combat control teams training beside them. JTACs provide the critical communication link between ground forces and the aircraft defending them, said the 96th EBS' Capt. Aaron Rusling, the Cobra Gold combined air forces liaison. According to Rusling, the challenge of CAS is not only its sensitive timing but the detailed communication with the ground forces not required in other bombing missions. In addition to coupling combined and joint forces, Cobra Gold allowed the bomber crews to train on a critical advantage of the B-52 -- the long-endurance mission. Despite U.S. forces' important proximity to their Pacific allies in locations such as Japan, Guam and the Republic of Korea, the geography of the Pacific Ocean is not without its challenges, Rusling said. For Cobra Gold the B-52s flew approximately 16 hours to Thailand -- a mission that required about 380 thousand pounds of fuel and called for another critical piece of the Air Force's global reach: tankers. Another unit deployed to Andersen, the 141st Air Refueling Wing of the Washington Air National Guard, performed the first refuel of the bomber missions just east of the Philippines. After the B-52s continued west over the Philippines, they again required fuel just before reaching the Gulf of Thailand. Tankers from the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill AFB, Fla., flew out of Paya Lebar, Singapore, to complete that last, timely refuel. The real benefit of the B-52s flying in Cobra Gold, said Rusling, was "to every extent possible provide an environment identical to the way we employ with both combined and joint services. "So Cobra Gold is a great event for bilateral training opportunities that prepare us for real-world contingencies," he said. The 96th EBS' deployment to Guam is part of a continuous bomber presence in the Pacific designed to increase security and stability in the region while increasing training opportunities with U.S. allies like those offered by Cobra Gold. This year's exercise Cobra Gold is the 26th of its kind. In addition to field training exercises, the event also features a staff exercise in Pattaya, Thailand, to train leaders in both combined joint operations and transition to United Nations authority; and humanitarian civic action sites around the kingdom that range from civil engineering projects to medical clinics.