USAF Bombers Demonstrate European Commitments

 - May 30, 2020, 5:01 AM
Old foes become friends: two 28th Bomb Wing B-1Bs work with Ukrainian Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters over the Black Sea on May 29. (Photo: Ukrainian air force)

During May the U.S. Air Force undertook a series of nonstop training missions to Europe with Boeing B-1B Lancers. Supported by tankers, the aircraft exercised with local air forces in two of Europe’s “hot-spots”—the Baltic and Black Seas—on what are known as Bomber Task Force missions. A key objective of the missions is to familiarize regional air forces with bomber operations to pave the way for any joint operations that might be undertaken in the future. The flights also deliver a clear political message to Russia.

“Bomber Task Force missions to Europe demonstrate commitment to our allies and partners all while providing a clear deterrence message to any adversary,” said General Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. “The integration of our strategic bomber presence across Europe proves that the U.S., alongside any ally or partner, stands ready to deter, and if needed, can employ these capabilities together.”

The series of missions were undertaken by B-1Bs of the 28th Bomb Wing, flying from their home base at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. During the first sortie on May 5, two B-1Bs flew to the Baltic Sea, where they first performed integration and interoperability training with Danish air force F-16s in the vicinity of Bornholm island. They subsequently flew over the Baltic republics: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Inert bombs were dropped on the Tapa range in Estonia, working with local joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) in a close air support exercise.

On May 11 a single B-1B flew to the Baltic, again training with Danish F-16s before joining with Polish F-16s and MiG-29s, including a flypast over the capital, Warsaw. The aircraft continued into Lithuanian and Latvian airspace before heading for home.

B-1B Denmark
During the May 11 mission a single B-1B undertook a round trip from South Dakota to the Baltic. Here it flies with a Danish F-16 in special patriotic markings. (Photo: Royal Danish Air Force)

A more northerly tasking took a May 20 mission by two B-1Bs to Sweden where they operated with the air force’s Gripen fighters and conducted close air support training at the Vidsel range, working with Swedish JTACs. The B-1Bs then operated with Norwegian F-35As and overflew their home base at ├śrland. During this mission, the bombers were escorted part of the way by RAF Typhoons and were refueled over Europe by Boeing KC-135Rs from the RAF Mildenhall-based 100th Air Refueling Wing and by a KDC-10 of the Netherlands air force.

B-1B Gripen
B-1s operate for the first time with Swedish Gripens during the May 20 Bomber Task Force mission. (Photo: Swedish air force)

In the most recent mission on May 29, two B-1Bs flew across Europe to the Black Sea. Integration and interoperability training was conducted with Polish F-16s and MiG-29s and also with Romanian F-16s and MiG-21 Lancers, which provided overwatch and mounted combat air patrols during activities over the Black Sea. Refueling was provided by 100th ARW KC-135Rs and, for the first time, KC-135s from the Turkish air force, flying from Incirlik.

B-1B Romania
An F-16 from the local air force escorts two B-1Bs over Romania. (Photo: Romanian air force)

Another first was integrated activities with Su-27 “Flanker” and MiG-29 “Fulcrum” fighters of the Ukrainian air force. Finally, the B-1Bs joined up with Greek F-16s to overfly Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia. The small nation is NATO’s latest member state, and Greece provides air policing for its airspace.

Naturally, these Bomber Task Force missions did not go unnoticed by the Russian air force, which conducted a number of intercepts with Su-27P and Su-30SM fighters over both the Baltic and Black Seas. The Russian defense ministry released a video on May 29 showing two Su-27s shadowing a B-1B.

B-1B Su-27
A screen-grab from a Russian government video shows an Su-27P escorting a B-1B. (Photo: Russian Ministry of Defense)