Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Airmen Test Nuclear Weapon Mission

Members of the 72nd Test and Evaluation Squadron here took part in Combat Sledgehammer Aug. 17 as part of Air Combat Command's nuclear weapon system evaluation program. Combat Sledgehammer is conducted on Air Force bomber and fighter aircraft that are capable of carrying thermonuclear bombs and cruise missiles. "As a nuclear-capable bomber, the B-2 (Spirit) takes part in this program every year," said Maj. William Woodward, the 72nd TES director of operations. "The purpose of a B-2 Combat Sledgehammer is to conduct an end-to-end, stockpile-to-target force development evaluation to test the entire operational envelope of the aircraft and gravity weapons." In other words, crews are evaluated on every aspect from weapons pickup and delivery to weapons loading and dropping bombs on target. "The 509th BW trains and demonstrates its nuclear capabilities in many ways throughout the year," Major Woodward said. "Combat Sledgehammer offers the one opportunity to put all the pieces together at the same time -- weapons loading, aircraft generation, command and control and weapon release."
Members of a weapons load crew move a weapons load trailer into position under the bomb bay of a B-2 Spirit .
Combat Sledgehammer involves several organizations coordinating together. The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration staff supplies simulated bombs; Sandia National Laboratories officials determine the release parameters (altitude and airspeed); U.S. Strategic Command members provide emergency action messages to test and control procedures; ACC Airmen set the annual schedule; the 53rd Wing staff coordinates planning details and provides an after-action report; and the 509th BW members provide the aircraft, load the simulated weapon and fly the mission. "The 72nd (TES) works hand-in-hand with the 509th BW during Combat Sledgehammer," Major Woodward said. "We coordinate with all the outside agencies involved and create an overall plan. The 509th BW fills in the details, selects aircraft and aircrew, loads the weapons and executes the test." During Combat Sledgehammer, evaluators look for any part of the process that isn't working in accordance with regulations. "We never want to have to use a nuclear weapon against an enemy," Major Woodward said. "But Combat Sledgehammer is a chance to prove ourselves and the rest of the world that if the president asks us to deliver a nuclear weapon, we would do it perfectly. That capability, combined with national political will, is what makes the nuclear deterrent work."

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