Yesterday U.S. B-2 Spirit bombers concluded their role in what U.S. European Command calls an historic Bomber Task Force deployment to Europe amid unprecedented and daily mounting tensions with the U.S.’s fellow nuclear superpower Russia.
The current iteration of the Bomber Task Force mission combined the B-2 deployment with one of B-1B Lancer strategic bombers. Since the Cold War the two planes along with the B-52 Stratofortress have made up the American nuclear-capable, long-range, supersonic bomber fleet. In 2007 the B-1 was converted to carry only conventional bombs in accord with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Given the volatile state of U.S.-Russian relations, described by the late Stephen Cohen as potentially more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis, although Washington agreed this year to extend the New START agreement for five years it is not inconceivable that the B-1 could revert to carrying nuclear bombs.
The B-1s, four in number, achieved the following objectives deemed by EUCOM as historic: They were the first American bombers to deploy to Norway; one of the warplanes was the first to land within the Arctic Circle (near Bodö) and the squad conducted the first hot-pit refuellings of a B-1 in Europe while in Poland and Norway, that refueling process being part of the U.S. Air Force’s revived Agile Combat Employment program.
On March 12 one of the B-1s flew from the Ørland Air Force Base, Norway to participate in the Bomber Task Force Europe training mission Spring Spear, where it engaged in an integrated exercise with Danish, Swedish and Polish fighter jets and U.S. Marine and Norwegian Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. The Polish F-16s escorted the B-1 to the Powidz Air Base, which is described by the Pentagon as “hub of base operations for Poland” where most American troops stationed in Poland, assigned to Atlantic Resolve, are processed. (Atlantic Resolve is a Pentagon operation for the build-up of U.S. military personnel in Eastern Europe following the coup and war in Ukraine in 2014. U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force maintain a company of troops each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to train and exercise with the armed forces of their host countries, complementing the NATO battlegroups in those four nations.)
In all the B-1s, separately or collectively, flew nine sorties after landing in Norway, including engaging in NATO interoperable exercises with Swedish JAS-39 Gripens, Danish F-16 Fighting Falcons, Polish F-16s and with German and Italian Eurofighter Typhoons currently assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing in Latvia and Lithuania.
On March 16 B-2s, still nuclear-capable, joined the Bomber Task Force deployment in Europe. They flew four sorties into what NATO calls the High North – the Arctic Circle – and integrated with the B-1s and Norwegian F-35s (Joint Strike Fighters) currently deployed with NATO’s Icelandic Air Policing mission off the coast of that island nation.
The latest B-1 and B-2 deployments are part of a mission the U.S. Air Force inaugurated in 2018 to further integrate the warfighting capabilities of “NATO allies and regional partners” in Europe. That this year’s iteration was conducted in the Arctic and the Baltic Sea region as well as off Iceland is a clear indication of where the U.S. and NATO intend that integrated air combat training to be applied.