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Weapons School trains Airmen for war

By Senior Airman Joseph Raatz 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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Students converse in hushed whispers as they pore over a hundred details, planning the perfect strike mission deep into enemy territory.

Planning sessions like these are common occurrences at the 340th Weapons Squadron, a tenant unit on Barksdale Air Force Base. The 340th WPS offers select B-52H Stratofortress instructors advanced instruction and training on nation's premier strategic heavy bomber.

"We take instructors from all three crew positions of the B-52 and we expose them to enhanced, graduate-level tactics," said Maj. Dennis "Chet" Cummings, 340th WPS director of operations. "We also introduce them to all the other Combat Air Force players, so they get integration with fighters, other bombers, airborne command and control assets, surveillance aircraft and remotely piloted aircraft like the MQ-9 Reaper. This helps prepare them for any joint operations they might encounter throughout their careers."

Today's 340th WPS is a geographically separated unit of the US Air Force Weapons School, assigned to Air Combat Command and located at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The unit was originally known as the 340th Bomb Squadron, a combat squadron with a long and proud history.

"The 340th has been around since World War II and at one point was commanded by Gen. Paul Tibbets Jr., the man who flew the Enola Gay and dropped the first nuclear weapon," Cummings said.

During the Cold War, the 340th Bomb Squadron fell under the Strategic Air Command umbrella, flying the B-29 Superfortress, B-50 Superfortress, B-47 Stratojet and multiple variants of the B-52. Upon the deactivation of SAC in 1992, the 340th BS stood down and remained inactive until being re-designated as the 340th Weapons Squadron and assigned to the Air Force Weapons School in 2003.

The 340th WPS now holds an education and training role, hosting two classes per year with a capacity of 10 students per class, Cummings explained. Each class lasts more than five months and is composed of more than 400 hours of academic instruction with multiple simulator flights and training sorties.

"It's a very tough program," he said. "The coursework is all graduate-level and above, and a lot of it is extremely technical. The planning aspects in particular are really challenging."

The school's instructors are experts on the B-52, and each is a former student. Cummings himself graduated from the program in 2006.

"Between 20-25 percent of our students come back through the program as instructors," he said. "It's one of those things that ensures continuity and helps us keep things current."

Beyond the academics, briefings, training sorties and simulator flights, students engage in several special mission planning exercises. These exercises have weapons school students take complex scenarios and plan missions around them, using real-world considerations and impacts to create as real an experience as possible. These activities give students the skills they'll need when they graduate and become squadron weapons officers.

Graduates from U.S. Air Force Weapons School are few and far between, with less than five percent of B-52 crewmembers wearing a weapons school graduate patch; but their influence far extends what their meager numbers might suggest.

"When you leave weapons school, you never really stop teaching," Cummings said. "It's a perfect example of the trickle-down effect. You take all the knowledge you learned at the schoolhouse back to your squadron while it's still fresh in your mind and teach it to your team, and they teach their team and so on, making the whole force more effective."