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By Amn. Justin Moore
307th Bomb Wing
Members of the 307th Bomb Wing and Air Force Special Operations Command integrated with special operations forces from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom during Exercise SOUTHERN EDGE here March 10-17, 2023.
The Air Force Reserve-led exercise emphasized coordination between 343rd Bomb Squadron B-52H Stratofortress aircrew and special operations ground forces to enhance beyond line of sight (BLOS) and variable messaging format (VMF) capabilities. It also served as a means to further develop and refine other tactics including close air support (CAS) with AC-130U "Spooky" gunships.
The effort also provided a venue to practice strike coordination and reconnaissance (SCAR) with U28A Draco aircraft.
"It's very important to do these types of exercises right now because we are transitioning from a sustained counterinsurgency fight to a fight against a near-peer or peer enemy," said Lt. Col. Gregory Watson, Commander of the 343rd BS. "That's a huge shift in mindset and culture."
Southern Edge focused on ways to lower communication thresholds so ground troops calling in airstrikes are less vulnerable to enemy detection. It also practiced using Miniature Air Launched Decoys (MALD) from long distances to help ground parties achieve key military objectives, according to Maj. Zev McCarty, a 343rd BS electronic warfare officer and the exercise designer.
MALDs can jam enemy communications and serve as a critical component of some electronic attack (EA) strategies.
"We are trying to employ MALDs in a flexible way to provide EA on demand because you have limited assets in some theaters," said McCarty. "It's a very unique capability."
McCarty conceived Exercise Southern Edge after training with Canadian ground forces last year. The entire effort, from conception to implementation, took six months.
"It's innovative, it's entrepreneurial, and it is 100% an in-house, homegrown exercise," said Watson, "It shows our adversaries that we can reach out and touch them under any circumstances."
The exercise was part of a larger effort to answer the call of U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., to accelerate change across the service to keep up with global pacing threats.
Southern Edge also carried the added benefit of building camaraderie between U.S. forces and their counterparts in partner nations.
"They don't always have the opportunity to work with bombers, so the U.S. hosting this exercise is a sign of our commitment to them," said McCarty.