B-1 capabilities, then and now – A JTAC Story

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. – Under the sweltering heat of the desert sun, 56 members of a U.S. combat patrol methodically traverse the uneven terrain of the Afghanistan valley on yet another mission designed to put the presence of the Afghanistan Army out there for their citizens to see.

Forging ahead in the heat and 80 pounds of battle rattle, the patrol – which includes Tech. Sgt. Adam Vizi, then Joint Terminal Attack Controller – snakes its way through the dense terrain.

Without warning, gunfire erupts from a ridge from a group of enemy fighters, intent on ending their lives. The group scrambles for cover, setting up the return fire to end the threat.

Fifteen minutes later, the radio crackles to life as the saviors from above respond to the call for help.

During a deployment in Afghanistan, then Tech. Sgt. Adam Vizi, now the 28th Bomb Wing command chief, made that call. As a JTAC, he called for backup and within 10 minutes had an MQ-1 Predator and a B-1 bomber checking in with him, prepared to terminate the enemy.

At the time, America’s B-1 fleet was not yet equipped with the sniper-advanced targeting pod, an electro-optical targeting system. Instead, aviators used radar and a moving map to identify terrain features on the ground. These capabilities required significant coordination to ensure proper execution of airstrikes.

Once communication began, Vizi went through his 9-line, a checklist used by JTACS when directing the action of combat aircraft in combat, to relay who was on the ground, their location, and the proximity of fire to friendly forces.

“I was looking at my map and all the targeting and coordinating I had done… and the [aircrews] relayed what they were seeing on their map,” Vizi recalled. “After triple checking coordinates of enemy forces, the B-1 deployed a GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition on target.”

Within 30 minutes, the B-1 and Vizi’s team coordinated and executed an airstrike against the enemy forces with GPS guided munitions.

“When we are dealing with this type of munition, we have to go through the cross-check process,” Vizi explained. “With a miss-step, there is a potential to pass your own coordinates. It’s happened in the past, and that’s why accurate coordinates and a double or triple check on a map ensures the weapon doesn’t go to an unintended target.”

Five years later while on another deployment to Afghanistan, Master Sgt. Vizi was involved in a similar scenario, but with a more lethal dog in the fight. The B-1 had undergone modernization to meet the demands of the Department of Defense, making it more lethal than ever. Its targeting pod is compatible with precision-guided weapons for detecting, identifying and engaging multiple moving and fixed targets in air-to-ground engagements.

During an operation, his team discovered a cache of weapons, explosives, bomb-making materials, and drugs, all of which needed to be destroyed to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

“We had compiled the cache in one location which we used two B-1s to drop munitions on those specific target/cache coordinates,” Vizi said. Snapping his fingers, he added, “the cross queuing was pretty quick. I passed a grid, they moved their targeting pod to verify what was at the grid and then refined the coordinates.”

Chief Vizi’s firsthand experience with the B-1 helped pave the way for him to become Team Ellsworth’s newest command chief Dec. 10, 2016.

“When Colonel Boswell hired me, I was honored,” Vizi said of his interview and selection to be the command chief of one of only two B-1 bases in the world. “I was excited for the opportunity because of my experience with the B-1s in combat. Having that tactical knowledge and being able to tie it directly into our professional Airmen allows for better two-way communication.”

Without the B-1, combat airpower – anytime, anywhere isn’t possible, and Vizi can attest to that. If the B-1 aircrew hadn’t responded to his first call more than 10 years ago, lives would have been lost. 

Vizi added, “if our base isn’t defended, if the fuel isn’t of high quality to go into our aircraft, if our travel vouchers don’t get processed – if there’s one thing that our people don’t do, the B-1 doesn’t get pushed forward to the JTACs on the ground and lives can be lost.”