U.S. nuclear-capable bomber fires Mach-8 hypersonic missile in simulated Arctic drill
In reporting on the nearly-completed Northern Edge 21 war games in Alaska and in the waters surrounding it, U.S. Air Force disclosed that a B-52H Stratofortress nuclear-capable bomber flew from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to the massive Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex to engage in a test of a new hypersonic missile. The test was described by the Air Force as a milestone event.
A prototype of the hypersonic missile is capable of flying at eight times the speed of sound (Mach 8) and has a range of a thousand miles.
The B-52H, one of two long-range bombers the Pentagon maintains for both conventional and nuclear weapons, can fly up to a height of 50,000 feet and for almost 9,000 miles without refueling. One of the reports on Northern Edge 21 mentioned that of the 240 aircraft participating, some have crossed eleven time zones to engage in the exercise. Guam to Alaska is an over 4,600-mile flight.
The exercise includes 15,000 military personnel from U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. It is headquartered at the massive Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which services all five U.S. military domains: land, sea, air, cyberspace and space. Its website states it encompasses 65,000 square miles of airspace and 42,000 square nautical miles of surface, subsurface and overlying air space in the Gulf of Alaska. Alaska is fifty miles from the Russian mainland. It has a 6,600-mile coastline, with over 1,000 miles of that abutting the Arctic.
The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, an amphibious ready group and a Marine Expeditionary Unit are also involved. The Air Force’s newest fighter jet, the fourth-generation F-15EX Eagle ll, is among the warplanes deployed for the exercise. Northern Edge is its first engagement in a military exercise. Drills included 300 paratroopers seizing an airfield with close air support.
A month before Northern Edge 21 began on May 3 an article in Air Force Times described the exercise as one in which “Ten thousand troops will descend on the High North this spring to practice how the U.S. military might react if simmering tensions in the Arctic reach a boiling point.” The estimated number of service members was off by 50 percent, but the geopolitics of the event were revealed clearly enough: the High North is just what the name implies, that is, reaching into the Arctic Ocean. “Simmering tensions” is a direct reference to Russia.
The Air Force described the overall purpose of the twelve-day exercise in stating it “provides high end realistic war fighter training, develops and improves joint interoperability, and enhances the combat readiness of participating forces” in the High North, amid simmering tensions that could boil over.
The U.S. Air Force website, under the headline of B-52 completes successful hypersonic kill chain employment, says the B-52 effected a Beyond Line of Sight Kill Chain employment by launching a simulated hypersonic missile strike at a target 600 miles away after receiving target data while it was 1,000 miles away.
This year’s iteration of Northern Edge is occurring shortly after the release of U.S. Army’s 48-page planning document, Regaining Arctic Dominance, which identifies Russia as the chief rival in the region.
The U.S. deployed one of its three mainstay Cold War-era nuclear bombers to Alaska. In February and March it sent the other two, B-1s and B-2s, to Europe.
Alaska is the the eastern boundary of the Russian Arctic and Norway is the western.
In February the Pentagon deployed four B-1 long-range supersonic, strategic bombers to Norway, one of which 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.
The newly-adopted strategy of “regaining dominance” in the Arctic has begun in earnest.