Report by Mike Danks
For the first time on UK shores during a tactical deployment (TDY), all three United States Air Force (USAF) Global Strike Commands bombers were at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. The three venerable B-52H ‘Stratofortress’, three supersonic B-1B ‘Lancers’ and two stealthy B-2A ‘Spirits’ arrived throughout the beginning of in the first week of June. This is only the second time that all three assets have been deployed together, the other being at Anderson AFB, Guam.
The B-52Hs were the first to arrive with one of them taking part in exercise Artic Challenge in Finland. This involved flying from its home base of Barksdale, Louisiana to Finland and then recovering to RAF Fairford. The other aircraft arrived a couple of days later, taking up their usual position on the western end dispersals. The Bones arrived nearly a week later with the first two arriving direct from Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota under the callsigns MYTEE11 and 12. The last Bone arrived the next day creating quite a sight at RAF Fairford.
With rumours of B-2As turned into fact as MYTEE21 and 22 departed Whiteman AFB, Missouri at 18:00Z on 8th June. These aircraft were not going to be direct flights but were due at the RAF military range at Holbeach to complete a mission before recovering to RAF Fairford on the morning of 9th June. “The short term deployment of B-2As ensures bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness and will provide opportunities to integrate capabilities with regional partners. It is part of the United States’ commitment to global security.” USAF media release Number 030617 Lt. Gen Richard M Clark the 17th Expeditionary Wing Commander explained that there were 600+ personnel present at the base and that they and the bombers were deployed to RAF Fairford, to participate in the exercises, integrate with allied nations and show the interoperability of a joint coalition team. Lt Gen Clark also said that RAF Fairford is a strategic important location in Europe, is kept in a warm status and has the ramp space and facilities for short rotational deployments.
- Arctic Challenge – NATO exercise to train for deployment to the Arctic region
- BALTOPS – Multinational maritime exercise in the Baltic region
- Sabre Strike – US Army led field training exercise in Baltic region countries, including Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland.
The missions flown were explained by crews from each type. After participating in Artic Challenge the B52H took part in both BALTOPS and Sabre strike with missions including mine laying and using multiple conventional weapons. The crews experience ranged from senior crews who had been deployed to Al Udeid AFB, Qatar, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve and inexperienced crews. The age of the B52H is not an issue with the airframe being built to last and it being underbuilt, technological wise, meaning that it can be upgraded with all new avionics and equipment with relative ease. This ability still makes it a vitally important part of Global Strike Command.
The Bone has seen its role change from its beginings of a supersonic low level nuclear strike bomber and now is one of the most versatile aircraft in the USAF inventory. During its participation in both BALTOPS and Sabre Strike the Bones completed mission including, Maritime Intediction/ship finding, Mine laying, Maritime reconnaissance, Close Air Support and working with Joint Terminal Air Controllers, switching between roles during the missions at times. Although present at RAF Fairford during both exercises the B-2A Spirits were not participating in either. They were there to fly local missions and would be at the base for the remainder of the week commencing 13th June. A surprise when the B-2A crew spoke to us was an English accent. This was Squadron Leader Wes Pead who was participating in the Foreign Exchange Officer Programme with the USAF. Sqn Ldr Pead has had a long career in the RAF having flown the Tornado GR4 for many years and has spent the last two and half years flying with the 131st Bomb Wing. He will soon have completed his FEOP and will be coming back to the RAF to work at the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington.
- B-52H 2nd Bomb Wing based at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana 61-0020, 60-0021 and 60-0002
- B1B 28th Bomb Wing based at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota 86-0139, 85-0084 and 85-0083
- B2A 509th Bomb Wing based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri 82-1068 ‘Spirit of New York’ and 88-0329 ‘Spirit of Missouri
During the exercises the USAF bombers were working with other NATO nations including Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Canada, Italy, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, UK, Norway, Slovenia, Slovakia and Portugal and Enhanced Opportunities Partners: Finland and Sweden. Thank you to the 501st Combat Support Wing, the bomber crews, personnel and Sgt Thomasson for the opportunity to hear directly from those involved in the exercises.