53rd Wing’s 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron receives Air Force accolades for innovative warfighter solutions

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin
  • 53rd Wing

The 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron based out of Barksdale Air Force Base received numerous awards over the past year to include the 2021 Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, presented to units for exceptional meritorious service and outstanding achievement. The 49th TES “Wolfpack” was one of nine squadrons across Air Combat Command bestowed with this honor.

Much of the squadron’s success is attributed to their ability to address inefficiencies and create innovative solutions that save both time and money, preserving valuable commodities and providing required capabilities to the warfighter faster.

One example of the squadron’s innovation is the organically built Cruise Missile Trainer, an in-house simulator created to rehearse Air-Launched Cruise Missile testing in order to support the Nuclear Weapons System Evaluation Program (NucWSEP), known as COMBAT SLEDGEHAMMER.

Maintained by one engineer and one coder, this immersive training environment spans 10 computers and simulates the mission control center at Hill Air Force Base where ALCM NucWSEP takes place.

“In the past, we had to travel to Hill Air Force Base a week prior to the already two-week mission several times a year in order to train new personnel, knock off the rust, or look at old missions to try and trouble shoot and change how the data is presented,” said 1st Lt. Patrick Lenahan, 49th TES B-52 operations research analyst. “So the engineers and coders took the initiative to create a 98% replica of the MCC at Hill to be able to train and equip internal to our squadron at no extra cost to the program. Now, we show up to the MCC fully trained and ready to execute.”

The program Lenahan and his team manage has saved the 49th TES approximately $50,000 in travel and range funds per year, while also creating a laboratory to test and optimize ALCM telemetry data presentation for future launches.

“If we are to solve the needs of the warfighter at the speed that’s required we have to empower our people and encourage inventive ways of thinking,” said Lt Col. Matt Guasco, 49th TES commander. “In the words of General Brown, ‘Victory goes to the rapid integrator of ideas’.”

One of the biggest tasks the 49th TES accomplished this year was solving the developmental and operational test issues that came with the addition of Link 16 capability to the B-52 Stratofortress. The squadron was unable to obtain a frequency authorization to transmit Link 16, barring their ability to test the aircraft’s new capability.

“We had to figure out a way to accomplish these tests or risk further delaying the Link 16 program,” said Maj. Brent Drabek, 49th TES assistant director of operations. “So we decided to conduct the bulk of our Link 16 test points 200 miles off coast, where a frequency clearance is not required, and partnered with AWACS/E-3 flight tests through the 96th Operations Group Detachment 2.”

To further reduce risk if the E-3 was unavailable, the 49th TES came up with an alternate solution to carry a handheld Link 16 radio on the aircraft that could be used to test against the B-52’s Multifunctional Information Distribution Joint Tactical Radio System. Ultimately, the squadron’s work proved successful allowing B-52 Link 16 program tests to be completed on time at low risk, speeding up the timeline to get Link 16 to the warfighter. 

“We are undergoing some of the largest modernization efforts seen in decades, but that takes time we don’t have,” said Col. Jaime Hernandez, 753rd Test and Evaluation Group commander. “We can’t allow aging policies and procedures to inhibit our ability moving forward. We have to change the construct and be innovative, and that’s exactly what the 49th TES is doing.”

A third innovative solution the squadron developed in 2017 is known as the Airborne Test Instrumentation Data System Deployable Generation-2, the first operational data playback system for the B-52. ATIDS DG-2 stemmed from the Combatant Commander requirement for B-52s to possess a data playback system prior to down range deployment.

With the support of military and industry aircrew, maintenance, and engineer experts spanning multiple locations, the 49th TES developed an approved solution to adapt existing operational test data into a system that could operate in the deployed environment. This was completed alongside a new acquisition strategy to keep the system on time and within budget.

The first DG-2–modified B-52 deployed and flew combat missions in theater 105 days from the initial Air Force Global Strike Command request for support. To date, 16 DG-2 kits have been produced and installed, enabling over 600 combat missions with no loss of mission data. 

In addition to the AFOUA, the 49th TES received the ACC 2021 Nuclear Deterrence Operations Award, recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of Airmen contributing to nuclear deterrence operations, and the 53rd Wing 2022 Verne Orr Award, recognizing the unit for their effective use of human resources.

“It is extremely humbling for a small unit such as ours to be recognized in this way,” said Guasco. “It’s a real testament to the men and women of the 49th TES, past and present, who put their heart and soul into bringing the future faster for the warfighter.”

For more information, contact 1st Lt Lindsey Heflin, Public Affairs Advisor for the 53rd Wing at 850-598-3283 or lindsey.heflin.1@us.af.mil.

The 53rd Wing provides tactical advantage to the warfighter at the speed of relevance. By testing new operational capabilities and evaluating fielded capabilities, the 53rd Wing is bringing the future faster while answering the warfighter’s demands for integrated, multi-domain capabilities.