The United States Air Force 5th Bomb Wing (5 BW) is a B-52 Stratofortress unit based at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. The wing is one of only two B-52 wings in the US Air Force (the other being the 2d Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
The 5 BW is part of the Air Combat Command's Eighth Air Force and is the host unit at Minot Air Force Base. Its current Commander is Colonel Joel S. Westa, with Colonel Paul G. Bell as Vice-Commander, and Chief Master Sergeant Mark Clark as Command Chief. The wing includes a total force of approximately 3,200 military members as well as 420 civilian employees.
The 5 BW consists of the following groups:
As the host unit at Minot, the 5th BW also controls the special staff functions of the inspector general, wing plans, the chaplain, staff judge advocate, arms control, command post, public affairs, history and safety. The 5th Comptroller Squadron also reports directly to the 5th BW commander.
The 5th Bomb Wing’s history dates back more than eight decades to the infancy of military aviation. It originally activated as the 2d Group (Observation) Aug. 15, 1919, at Luke Field in the Territory of Hawaii. In 1921, the group was redesignated the 5th Group (Observation). A year later, it became the 5th Group (Pursuit and Bombardment) with its crews flying DeHaviland DH-4 aircraft.
Activities included training, participating in Army-Navy maneuvers, staging aerial reviews and sowing seeds from the air for the Territorial Forestry Division. In 1935, the group helped save the city of Hilo, Hawaii, during the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano. Ten Keystone B-3 and B-4 bombers from the group’s 23d and 72d Bombardment Squadrons dropped 20, 600-pound bombs around the volcano to divert molten lava away from the town. Redesignated 5th Bombardment Group in Mar 1938, 5th Bombardment Group (Medium) in Dec 1939, and 5th Bombardment Group (Heavy) in Nov 1940. Equipped with Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and Douglas B-18 Bolos by Dec 1941.
The 5th Bombardment Group suffered devastating casualties and equipment damage during the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field and other targets on the island of Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941. However, the group’s aircrews went on to become the first U.S. military forces to take to the air following the attack.
Assigned to Seventh Air Force in Feb 1942. Engaged primarily in search and patrol missions off Hawaii from Dec 1941 to Nov 1942. In Hawaii, the B-17E-equipped 5th and 11th Bombardment Groups were used in the Battle of Midway to attack Japanese surface fleets. High-altitude bombing attacks against moving ships capable of evasive action proved to be completely unsuccessful at Midway. Although several attacks were made by the B-17s, none of their bombs actually hit a single Japanese ship. An attack against naval vessels at sea was found to be a job best done by low-altitude B-25 Mitchell/B-26 Marauder medium bombers or by Douglas A-24 Banshee dive bombers.
Left Hawaii in Nov 1942 and, operating primarily from Espírito Santo in the Solomon Islands with a mix of B-17 and B-24 aircraft, served in combat with Thirteenth Air Force during the Allied drive from the Solomons to the Philippines. Flew long patrol and photographic missions over the Solomon Islands and the Coral Sea, attacked Japanese shipping off Guadalcanal, and raided airfields in the northern Solomons until Aug 1943. Then struck enemy bases and installations on Bougainville, New Britain, and New Ireland.
The group moved between various bases in the Southwest Pacific and by mid-1943, most B-17s were withthdrawn in favor of the longer-ranged Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The B-24 was better suited for operations in the Pacific, having a higher speed and a larger bombload at medium altitudes. In addition, the losses in Europe were reaching such magnitudes that the entire B-17 production was urgently needed for replacements and training in that theatre.
Raided the heavily defended Japanese base on Woleai during Apr and May 1944 and received a Distinguished Unit Citation for the action. Helped to neutralize enemy bases on Yap and in the Truk and Palau Islands, Jun-Aug 1944, preparatory to the invasion of Peleliu and Leyte. Flew missions to the Netherlands Indies, receiving a DUC for an attack, conducted through heavy flak and fighter defenses, on oil installations at Balikpapan, Borneo, on 30 Sep 1944. Completed a variety of missions from Oct 1944 until the end of the war, these operations including raids on enemy bases and installations on Luzon, Ceram, Halmahera, and Formosa; support for ground forces in the Philippines and Borneo; and patrols off the China coast. Moved to the Philippines in 1945 till the end of the war.
During the nearly four years of war, the group participated in 10 major campaigns, flew more than 1,000 combat missions and earned two Distinguished Unit Citations and the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation. During the time, its members accumulated more than 13,300 medals and decorations.
Remained in the theater as part of Far East Air Forces after the war, but all personnel evidently had been withdrawn by early in 1946. Redesignated 5th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) in Apr 1946, and 5th Reconnaissance Group in Feb 1947.
Between 1947 and 1958, the group underwent several name and assignment changes while continually upgrading its aircraft. Performed long-range strategic reconnaissance, July 1949-October 1955, with some limited reconnaissance to September 1958. Operational squadrons were 23d, 31st and 72d Strategic Reconnaissance flying Boeing RB-17G/F-2/F-9/F-13 aircraft (1947-49) and beginning in 1948, Boeing RB-29 aircraft until 1951.
The wing performed operations to probe the eastern borders of the Soviet Union and China. Little was known about the air defence capability of the Soviet Union at this time and the most effective way of determining their capability was to probe the borders and see whether they would respond. Initially, the RB-17Gs and later aircraft (RB-29, RB-36D) mapped the perimeter of the Soviet Air Defences from the Baltic to the Sea of Okhotsk, north of Japan.
This mission, along with many others, found that west of the Bering Strait there was virtually no radar coverage. As a result of these missions, USAF war plans were drawn up which directed a massive bomber attack to hit Russia from this direction, flying on to land in the Middle East or Africa, or more likely bailing out as the aircraft ran out of fuel. Gradually, during the 1950s, the Soviets began filling in the gaps in their radar coverage over northern Siberia, but large gaps on the outer perimeter between Alaska and Murmansk were still wide open for many years to come.
The wing was fully integrated with the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (later, 9th Bomb Wing), 12 November 1949-10 February 1951; maintained a manned headquarters, but had no operational control over assigned units, and from 1 February 1950 to 10 February 1951 shared a commander in common with the 9th Wing.
In June 1951, the wing began converting to the Convair RB-36D Peacemaker, forming three squadrons (23d, 31st, 72d Bombardment Squadrons). Later, B-36J models were assigned to the wing and it began maintaining proficiency in strategic bombardment in July 1953 but the 5th was not redesignated as a bombardment wing until October 1955.
While stationed at Travis AFB, Calif., the 5th Bombardment Wing (Heavy) entered the jet age in on February 13, 1959 when Strategic Air Command assigned the wing its first Boeing B-52B Stratofortresses. Two operational bomb squadrons (23d and 31st) were formed. With that change, the wing also gained the 916th Air Refueling Squadron and its KC-135A air refueling aircraft. The wing's 23d Bombardment Squadron and its people saw combat over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Its crews attacked targets in the region while supporting American and allied ground forces during Operation Arc Light between 1965 and 1968.
The wing moved to Minot AFB, North Dakota on July 25, 1968 with the 23d Bomb Squadron absorbing the resources of the 450th Bombardment Wing/720th Bomb Squadron and ended its Southeast Asia deployments. At Minot, the wing transitioned to the B-52H, which brought added vigor to its strategic deterrence mission. It also supported the post-attack command and control system (PACCS), July 1968-December 1969.
In the summer of 1975, the wing gained the Boeing AGM-69A Short Range Attack Missile (SRAM), which enhanced the ability of the B-52H to penetrate and survive in this hostile environment. Armed with a nuclear warhead and equipped with a simple inertial guidance system, the AGM-69A was propelled to its range of 20 to by a solid-propellant rocket motor. Each B-52 could carry up to 20 SRAMs, six on each of two wing pylons and eight on a rotary launcher located in the bomb bay.
Entering the 1990s, the 5th BW continued to set the standard as it deployed troops to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield. During the war’s air campaign, the wing joined U.S. and coalition bombers and fighters to defeat Iraq’s air and ground forces.
In September 1991, the wing marked a historic moment in the final days of the Cold War when it pulled its aircraft from continuous alert status – a job it performed for 35 years. The wing was relieved of its air refueling mission in June 1992 On June 1, 1992, the 5th Wing became the 5th Bomb Wing following the activation of Air Combat Command.
The bomb wing saw combat again in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. Months later, three Minot B-52s and crews joined the 2d Air Expeditionary Group at RAF Fairford, England, in support of Operation Allied Force over the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Budgetary cuts in 1996 led to a need for further force reductions which reduced the 5th's B-52H fleet. The 72nd BS was inactivated late in the year and their 12 aircraft were retired.
In the weeks following the terrorist attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the 5th BW deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Flying from a forward operating location, bomber crews attacked strategic targets in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime.
In 2003, the wing deployed approximately 550 people and 14 B-52s to the U.S. European Command region in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the war, the wing’s B-52s flew more than 120 combat missions and logged more than 1,600 combat flying hours. The bombers dropped more than 3 million pounds of weaponry, including conventional air-launched cruise missiles, joint direct attack munitions, gravity weapons, laser-guided bombs and leaflet dispensers. For the first time in combat history, a 5th BW crew employed a Litening II targeting pod to strike targets at an Iraqi airfield April 11, 2003.
In March 2004, the wing sent six B-52s and over 300 support personnel to Andersen AFB, Guam. The aircraft and crews supported U.S. Pacific Command operations to provide a stabilizing military force in the region.
In April 2005, the wing forward deployed aircraft and personnel to the 40th Air Expeditionary Wing in support of U.S. Central Command combat operations in Afghanistan. Flying a mix of close air support and strike missions, 5th BW crews ensured success of ground combat units in meeting their objectives.
Today, the 5th's B-52Hs are a major component of the USAF's strategic bombing force, alongside the Rockwell B-1B Lancer and the Northrop B-2A Spirit. The USAF is currently considering converting some of its B-52Hs to EB-52Hs to act as a stand-off electronic warfare platform. During Operation Allied Force (the bombing of Serbia undertaken in an attempt to halt the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo), the USAF found that additional jamming aircraft were needed to supplement the current fleet of Grumman EA-6A/B Prowler. With modern technology and advanced weapons like the JDAM and JASSM, the 5th's B-52 are expected to remain operational until the year 2040.
In 2007 the Wing lost its commanding officer after Colonel Bruce Emig was removed in connection with the 2007 United States Air Force nuclear weapons incident, when negligent handling of nuclear weapons breached safety and security procedures. Following that incident, the wing failed a nuclear surety inspection conducted by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in May 2008. The wing, however, kept its certification to perform missions and training with nuclear weapons.