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Southern Edge ’24: Barksdale bomb squadron leads innovative Total Force Integration effort

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Ted Daigle

No one can accuse the 343rd Bomb Squadron of losing its edge.

The squadron, part of the Air Force Reserve’s 307th Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, created an exercise called Southern Edge last year and used lessons learned to implement it again in February and March of this year.

Southern Edge ’24 provided realistic training to enhance coordination between B-52 Stratofortress aircrews and Special Forces troops from the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“We are figuring out what Special Operations Forces of the future look like,” said Capt. Sarah Brandenburg, 343rd weapon systems officer and lead planner for the exercise. “The focus is on using digital messaging targeting to call in long-range strikes.”

According to Lt. Col. Corey Hancock, 343rd BS commander, digital messaging between B-52 aircrew and Special Operations Forces ground teams is a more effective means of communication.

“As a B-52 community, we are moving toward digital targeting and messaging because it has a higher level of encryption and is faster and more accurate than current methods,” he said.

Southern Edge ’24, although led by an Air Force Reserve unit, helped broaden that community by bringing active-duty units from the 2nd Bomb Wing to participate for the first time in the young effort’s history.

“We’re a Total Force Integration unit, so we don’t do anything in isolation,” said Hancock. “When we saw the potential of last year’s effort, we advertised it early this year and got everyone involved.”

Brandenburg said this year’s TFI effort benefited from lessons learned in Southern Edge ’23.

“The first Southern Edge was a crawl phase; this iteration is a walk phase, and we’re hoping that the next will be the run phase,” she said. “Last year’s lessons have been taken into account, and we are testing ways to mitigate them.”

In addition to improving on last year’s efforts, Southern Edge ’24 is trying to demonstrate proof–of–concept in other areas to prepare for future contingencies.

“There’s a famous saying that the last war you fought is never the same as the next war, but that’s the one you train for because you don’t know any better,” said Hancock. “This training will help us avoid that by showing us where the gaps are in potential conflicts with a peer adversary.”

Both Brandenburg and Hancock said the likelihood of Southern Edge becoming an annual event is high due to the quality of the training and the impact it has on the next generation of B-52 aviators.

“The 343rd is made up mostly of seasoned B-52 evaluators with thousands of hours in the jet, so this exercise is a huge training opportunity,” said Hancock. “It allows us to pass on knowledge so the next generation can shape the future of B-52 warfare and be keepers of that knowledge.”

(Daigle is assigned to the 307th Bomb Wing public affairs office.)