The Pentagon deployed four B-1 long-range supersonic, strategic bombers to Norway late last month, one of which recently flew a joint mission with Norwegian and Swedish warplanes over the latter’s two nations and for the first time landed inside the Arctic Circle.
On March 12 a B-1 landed in Poland in a coordinated flight with Polish, Danish and Swedish warplanes. According to U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa, “Bomber Task Force missions demonstrate U.S. commitment to the collective defense of the NATO alliance and are a visible demonstration of the U.S. capability of extended deterrence.”
The Polish F-16 Fighting Falcons involved are part of a fleet of 48 F-16s purchased from the U.S. shortly after the nation joined NATO. At a cost of $3.5 billion, it was the most expensive military contract signed by any former Soviet bloc country since the Cold War and Poland’s largest ever.
The B-1 was a nuclear bomber warhorse during the Cold War and in theory at least could be reconverted from carrying conventional to delivering nuclear bombs. By 1988 the U.S. had 100 such bombers. They formed the air component of the American nuclear triad with the B-2 and B-52 bombers. The U.S.’s current 20 B-2s and 40 B-52s are nuclear-capable bombers.
The initial phase of the U.S.-led DEFENDER-Europe 2021 war games – with 31,000 troops from 27 nations, possibly the largest such exercises held by the U.S. and NATO allies since the Cold War – has begun and the exercises will continue to June.
On March 16 the U.S. Air Force announced that B-2s, still nuclear-capable, landed at Lajes Field in Portugal “to conduct bomber task force missions in the region.”
The B-2 Spirit, known as the Stealth Bomber, is designed to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons. It’s equipped to hold eighty 500-pound Mark 82 GPS-guided bombs or sixteen 2,400-pound B83 nuclear bombs, the most powerful nuclear weapons in the Pentagon’s arsenal, a component of the Nuclear Bunker Buster project.
The Air Force press release contained this about the simultaneous deployment of B-1s and B-2s to Europe, where the U.S. and NATO have identified one and only one adversary:
“‘These missions will add even more depth to this already historic bomber task force iteration,’ USAFE boss Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian said in a release. ‘B-2s joining the B-1s in theater offers unique opportunities to advance our readiness as we continue to work with and learn from our allies.’
“USAFE did not disclose how long the B-2 deployment will last. The deployments of both the B-1 and B-2 are occurring as NATO’s massive Defender Europe exercise kicks off. This year’s iteration will include more than 30,000 personnel from 27 nations, with operations in more than 30 training zones, according to U.S. Army Europe.”
The U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa did not say how long the deployment of nuclear-capable strategic bombers in Europe will last as the U.S. and NATO conduct war games unparalleled in scope and lethality in recent decades.