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MX shines during Combat Hammer

By Staff Sgt. Chad Warren 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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The flightline teems with activity as load crews carefully transport weapons from trailers to aircraft, playing their part in an exercise meant to improve the effectiveness of guided munitions carried by the B-52H Stratofortress.

Exercise Combat Hammer, following the lifespan of guided munitions from build-up to impact, is underway here, evaluating every aspect of the employment of guided weapons.

"This exercise is the evaluation of the employment of air to ground precision guided munitions," said Senior Airman Erin Bernik, 2nd Maintenance Operations Squadron weapons standardization section. "They are basically making sure we have reliable bombs from start to finish."

Evaluators from the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., conduct the evaluations on a wide range of Air Force airframes. The 86 FWS, also known as Combat Hammer, sends evaluators to host units that employ smart bombs to ensure their processes are up to par.

"From build-up to load-out to impact, everything is being evaluated," said Senior Master Sgt. Gregory Young, 86 FWS evaluator.

The team sent to evaluate is small, but is comprised of several Air Force Specialty Codes which are capable of covering the bomb's life from cradle to grave, he added.

According to Young, the ability to employ guided munitions greatly increases the effectiveness of combat aircraft, and these evaluations are important to ensure this capability is combat ready at all times.

"We want to detect any kind of deficiencies before they go to forward locations," said Staff Sgt. Marcus Thames, 86 FWS evaluator.

During the exercise, B-52H Stratofortress bombers are loaded with various inert guided munitions and deliver them to targets at a designated bombing range in Utah. Though inert, these bombs still provide evaluators with valuable information about the effectiveness of the weapon thanks to an embedded piece of technology called telemetry.

"Telemetry is the heartbeat of the weapon," said Thames. "From when the weapon releases from the aircraft to when it hits the target, the telemetry will tell you any flaws or fluctuations in voltage, impact angle and more."

The telemetry is only installed in the training weapons and used to provide valuable feedback on what the effect of a live weapon would have been, he added.

The payload of the B-52 means it plays an important role in the Air Force's employment of guided weapons.

"Bombers give longer range capabilities, where as fighters have to be a little closer to the fight," said Young. "They can also carry a larger payload."

These inherent advantages, coupled with top notch maintenance crews, make the B-52 as relevant as ever in today's fight.

"The maintenance crews here worked hard and were able to turn a jet and have it fly another mission the next day," said Thames. "In normal cases, a bomber needs to have too much work done to fly that quickly."

The speed and precision with which the maintenance Airmen here turned the jets around is unheard of, said the evaluators.

"If you can take a bomber that carries twice as many weapons as a fighter, and then send it out two consecutive days, that's a lot of weapons on target in a short amount of time," said Young.

Although the efficiency impressed the evaluators, it is all in a day's work for the maintainers here.

"We do this every day," said Bernik. "Evaluators or not, we are out here getting it done."