The United States Air Force is well known as the pinnacle of air superiority. Guaranteeing this supremacy are the Airmen who wear the coveted patch of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. With only approximately 100 weapons officers and enlisted specialists graduating from the school every six months, these Airmen are truly topnotch in their fields.
At the conclusion of nearly 400 hours of graduate-level academics and combat training missions, the Weapons School curriculum climaxes with a week-long series of exercises known as Advanced Integration.
Composed of six different missions, Advanced Integration contains one of the most dynamic pertaining to fourth and fifth Generation airframes, a night exercise known as Deliberate Strike Night.
“DSN is a Large Force Exercise in the Weapons School Advanced Integration Phase involving in excess of 70 aircraft and Joint Department of Defense assets (from three services) against a realistic near peer adversary,” said Lt. Col. Daniel S. Hoadley, 325th Weapons Squadron commander. “It’s a graduation level exercise for USAFWS students. It is the U. S. Air Force’s premier training event focused on attacking an Integrated Air Defense System.”
DSN reflects the degree of cutting-edge training provided by the Advanced Integration portion of the Weapons School curriculum by testing stealth and conventional airframes’ abilities to conduct attacks during the hours after sunset.
“It is one of six Advanced Integration vulnerability periods,” said Hoadley. “The focus of this vulnerability period is integration of fifth Generation Stealth assets with fourth Generation Conventional assets to attack an advanced air defense system, making it safe for follow-on assets to conduct strikes on later nights of the war.”
Since the purpose of DSN is to show the full-spectrum capabilities of the approximately 60 Air Force and U.S. Navy assets participating in the exercise, planning such an intricate exercise is no simple task.
”DSN planning begins with an initial planning conference three months prior to the event and continues until mission execution, which takes four days from the beginning of student planning to the end of the debrief,” said Maj. Jonathan Roe, 325th Weapons Squadron assistant director of operations. “I’m the vulnerability period manager for DSN. I oversee all exercise coordination and ensure that all the desired learning objectives (DLOs) for every participating squadron are built into the execution plan. It's a huge responsibility.”
While Roe oversees the planning of DSN, its implementation requires cooperation of a multitude of specialized offices for the event to unfold smoothly and successfully.
“The Commandant's Office of Integration assists in the coordination,” said Hoadley. “Major Jonathan "Death" Roe of the 325th WPS is the vulnerability periods manager for DSN. Roe won Air Combat Command Instructor Pilot of the Year, mostly for his instructional ability and his expertise in managing this high-visibility mission.”
In designing DSN, one vital factor of DSN to take into account is the exercise’s stealth execution during hours of darkness.
“On the early nights of an air campaign, the situation that we're simulating, the US gains a significant advantage over our adversaries by striking at night,” said Hoadley. “It boosts the survivability of all USAF assets and increases our probability of achieving surprise. For stealth assets, specifically, we prefer to employ at night because it reduces our visual signature.”
Since the focus of DSN is on fifth Generation Stealth assets with fourth Generation Conventional assets, one of the main night players is the B-2 Spirit.
“The B-2 fulfills the role of long range penetrating strategic attack,” said Hoadley. “Our main role is integrated air defense systems defeat. Stealth allows us to get inside of threat envelopes that conventional assets cannot penetrate. We're able to employ weapons that degrade that threat and make it safe for follow on forces to conduct operations at an acceptable level of risk.”
With the B-2 at the forefront of the exercise, the stealth bomber pilots also serve a critical role in the execution of DSN.
“In addition to the integration opportunity that all of the other participants are benefiting from, the B-2 USAFWS students are charged with leading the mission planning cell,” said Hoadley. “A select B-2 weapons instructor course student will be responsible for putting the entire plan for the vulnerability period together. He must understand the critical capabilities that everyone brings to this fight and put them together to solve the problem we hand to them.”
While the B-2 and its pilots play a central role in the execution of DSN, the night wouldn’t be possible without the integration of the nearly 60 other airframes participating.
“Each participant brings an important piece of the overall puzzle that makes this plan come together,” said Hoadley. “Some assets protect strikers from hostile fighters, some assist in finding un-located threats, and others provide suppression of the ground threat to enable strike aircraft to drop bombs. At the end of the day it's a team effort.”
These airframes working together serve to accomplish DSN focus of Air Force low-observable and conventional platforms deliberately targeting an adversary’s simulated integrated air defense system in an Anti-Access, Area Denial scenario.
This focus makes DSN a distinctive part of Advanced Integration and the unique training of the select Airmen who earn the coveted Weapons School patch and who ensure the air superiority of the United States Air Force.