The final test: Capstone to B-1B Lancer mission qualification

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Matthew Drake (left) and 2nd Lt. Myles Davis, 7th Operations Support Squadron intelligence officers, review slides with information on the B-1B Lancer at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Jan. 25, 2017. During the final stages of mission qualification, Drake and Davis work with a team of pilots, weapon system operators and other intelligence professionals to create a mission plan as part of their capstone.  Intel Airmen analyze information, coordinate with other units and are expected to know not only the vulnerabilities of an enemy, but also their proficiencies and potential threats to national security. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Matthew Drake (left) and 2nd Lt. Myles Davis, 7th Operations Support Squadron intelligence officers, review slides with information on the B-1B Lancer at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Jan. 25, 2017. During the final stages of mission qualification, Drake and Davis work with a team of pilots, weapon system operators and other intelligence professionals to create a mission plan as part of their capstone. Intel Airmen analyze information, coordinate with other units and are expected to know not only the vulnerabilities of an enemy, but also their proficiencies and potential threats to national security. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy)

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer weapon system operators Object (left), Count, Snare and Pyle sit together in a B-1 weapon simulator at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Jan. 25, 2017. WSOs work directly with programs and equipment that allow them to mark targets, make adjustments to the path a bomb will take and release the munition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy)

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer weapon system operators Object (left), Count, Snare and Pyle sit together in a B-1 weapon simulator at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Jan. 25, 2017. WSOs work directly with programs and equipment that allow them to mark targets, make adjustments to the path a bomb will take and release the munition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy)

The main mission of the 28th Bomb Squadron is to serve as the primary formal training unit for the B-1B Lancer and is located at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. As part of their final mission qualification, pilots, weapon system operators and intelligence personnel work together to create an operational mission plan. The strategy is briefed in front of qualified instructors, commanders and mission-ready intelligence officers who then critique it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy)

The main mission of the 28th Bomb Squadron is to serve as the primary formal training unit for the B-1B Lancer and is located at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. As part of their final mission qualification, pilots, weapon system operators and intelligence personnel work together to create an operational mission plan. The strategy is briefed in front of qualified instructors, commanders and mission-ready intelligence officers who then critique it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy)

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – --

A small, dim room is lined with row after row of dark red theater chairs. The air is cold, but 11 Airmen, in a mix of ABUs and flight suits, stand in the front, shifting their weight from one leg to the other and glancing around the room. They’ve prepped their briefing with every capability, target and weapon system they can think of, but the crowd in attendance is small and filled with seasoned professionals waiting to pick apart every single detail they hear. Welcome to the B-1B Lancer capstone.

The capstone week is a culmination of months of trainings, courses and certifications for pilots, weapons system officers and Intel personnel. It’s designed to test everything they’ve learned in a realistic scenario while fostering critical thinking skills and is the final obstacle between these Airmen and becoming mission-qualified members of the B-1 team.

The scenario they’re given is designed to be as realistic as possible, with real-life locations, dates and potential adversaries. The mission they’re tasked with: destroy or degrade the ballistic missile capabilities of their enemy. From the time they receive their scenario, trainees have approximately 24 hours to gather information, formulate a plan, memorize it and prepare to brief. When their time is up, ready or not, it’s time for the “Murder Board.”

“Our capstone was actually very, very close to real world,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Drake, 7th Operations Support Squadron 28th planning cell chief of mission intelligence. “The instructors tried to eliminate any sort of training-type things that might have shown up. The goal was to make it as realistic as possible.”

When it comes to the board, the intent is twofold: it forces the team to know every detail of their mission plan while also requiring them to use critical-thinking skills when responding to scenarios presented by the crowd. The “murder” portion becomes apparent when it comes to the way questions are posed to the group. Immediately following their respective briefs, highly-knowledgeable and qualified instructors, including WSOs, commanders and mission ready Intel officers, rapidly fire no-holds-barred questions regarding every mistake, inconsistency or even formatting issue within the brief. The questions are usually directed at individuals and are to be answered in real-time, but may be posed to the group if one briefer gets stuck.

“The Murder Board was extremely stressful for all of us” said Capt. Roni Yadlin, 9th Bomb Squadron assistant flight commander. “We have all gone through similar experiences, either through academic training or in pilot or WSO training, but personally, I don't think it ever gets any easier. With the amount of information we [as a group] were expected to know, it is impossible to know everything. So, the concern that you will be asked something that you just don't know anything about is definitely there. My only consolation was the fact that I knew that we weren't expected to know everything. So, I just hoped that I knew enough and was able to show what I did know.”

Taking the lessons learned during the Murder Board, the team fixes their plan and executes it in a simulator several times. The first allows them to see the fruits of their planning, identify shortcomings and try new tactics on the additional simulations. The results are documented and put into an out brief.

The out brief is a final demonstration of everything the group, and individuals, learned throughout the course. It covers what they did, planned and researched as well as what did, or did not, work. This is the final step before they find out whether they passed or failed, which is decided by the wing commander.

“I obviously learned a lot about the tactical employment of the B-1,” said Yadlin. “However, I also learned a lot about the process that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to mission planning. While four people ultimately go and fly a mission, there are so many countless people that are instrumental in ensuring the mission is successful.”

Through tough academics, long days spent planning and a truly humbling capstone week, these aviators, aircrew and Intel personnel fought for a spot among the elite within the B-1 community and won.

“The goal is to increase the knowledge base of the 9th Bomb Squadron, the 7th Bomb Wing and the B-1 community as a whole,” said Splinter, 7th OSS chief of wing weapons. “That makes us that much smarter and that much more capable at any given time. We’re always learning, always evaluating, always training to be the best. It’s a never ending process because the second we stop pushing ourselves, that’s the second we start to atrophy and we aren’t as sharp as we were.”

With their mission qualification complete, these Airmen stand among the most elite bomber community in the world’s greatest Air Force, ready to give any challenger hell, all with a smile on their face and “Mors ab Alto” on their chest.