BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
U.S. Strategic Command’s annual command and control and field training exercise, known as Global Thunder, concluded Oct. 31 after a week of 24-hour operations that tested the readiness of various mission areas, including Eighth Air Force strategic bombers.
When dealing with complex and large-scale exercises such as Global Thunder, bomber aircraft, associated aircrew and support teams do not merely assemble and participate. Preparation, planning and a strong command and control nucleus are critical to the success of operations – enter the 608th Strategic Operations Squadron and Task Force 204.
The 608th STOS and Task Force 204 are essentially the same unit, but have two different, yet related, missions and chains of command.
The 608th STOS, located at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, deals with the daily planning requirements of operating strategic bomber forces in support of USSTRATCOM nuclear deterrence missions. It is aligned under Eighth Air Force and Air Force Global Strike Command.
At any given time, the STOS tracks and monitors the number of aircraft, unit movements and available resources such as equipment and munitions. Additionally, the unit is responsible for writing and revising policies, procedures and planning documents necessary to effectively operate the bomber fleets.
“In essence, the STOS focuses on how real-world and exercise objectives are going to be met,” said Tech. Sgt. Charles Cooper, 608th STOS strategic weapons manager. “It’s no small task considering planning for next year’s Global Thunder begins the day after the current exercise ends, making this a year-long event.”
There are 19 different Air Force Specialty Codes found within the STOS, all geared to facilitate participating bomber wings successfully executing the mission. Areas of expertise in bomber operations, nuclear command and control operations, strategic mission development, computer support, logistics, intelligence and reconnaissance can all be found within the STOS.
When Global Thunder 17 kicked off, the STOS transformed into Task Force 204, a single-service task force aligned under USSTRATCOM.
“When Task Force 204 is activated, it operationalizes that on-the-shelf planning and applies it to the given scenario,” said Maj. Ben Bourcy, Task Force 204 strategic mission development chief. “Our main purpose is to manage [strategic] bomber generations and sustain alert forces for USSTRATCOM. Part of that includes having the right subject matter experts on hand to operationally advise the commander of USSTRATCOM on bomber capabilities and limitations.”
The number of Airmen that occupy the STOS doubles to become the task force; with additional experts in security forces, weather and linguistics also integrated into the unit and sustain 24/7 operations.
Additionally, Task Force 204 covers all aspects of the strategic bomber generation spectrum, to include command post controllers, aircraft maintenance, security forces, fuels, weapons, weapons maintenance, electronic warfare and intelligence gathering.
During the exercise, strategic bombers generated from various bases, adding to exercise realism and testing personnel and procedures in the generation process.
“Think of Task Force 204 as bomber connective tissue,” Bourcy said. “We are the C2 element between command and the wings.”
As one of six task forces within USSTRATCOM, Task Force 204 also relied on connections with other commands and task forces.
“If we were to meet mission objectives, a lot of cross communication was required,” said Jesse James, Task Force 204 logistics manager. “During the exercise we worked closely with Task Force 294, which focuses on aerial refueling, as well as U.S. Transportation Command and their ability to move the bomber mobile support teams.”
However, Task Force 204 encompasses another component outside of bomber operations – reconnaissance.
The task force is also responsible for generating and sustaining U-2 Dragon Ladies and RC-135 Rivet Joints to provide reconnaissance in support of strategic operations, also known as RISNO.Both the U-2 and RC-135 participated in Global Thunder 17.
“RISNO is the eyes, ears and nose of the nuclear triad,” James said. “It goes hand-in-hand with the [strategic] bomber strike force.”
For the Airmen of the STOS and Task Force 204, exercises like Global Thunder present a unique opportunity.
“Operational units get to see what we do when called upon,” said Maj. Mike Brogan, Task Force 204 assistant director of operations. “The task force and how we integrate into the larger picture becomes a tangible entity, and it motivates us to perform.”
While the strategic bombers in Eighth Air Force remain the most visible leg of the nuclear triad, it’s the 608th STOS and Task Force 204 Airmen that ensure bombers and RISNO aircraft have a global reach.
"The Global Thunder 17 exercise afforded participating Eighth Air Force personnel an excellent opportunity to validate existing operational plans and procedures while developing and testing innovative approaches,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, Eighth Air Force and Task Force 204 commander. “I couldn't be prouder of their performance, which was the best in many years. I was also very glad to see the integration of some of our key Allies into the exercise. At the end of the day, our readiness and planning helps to deter aggression around the globe, promoting stability and peace. Our warrior Airmen displayed peerless professionalism, dedication and excellence. If the nation calls upon the ‘Mighty Eighth’ for global strike operations...we stand ready.”