Bombers in Britain

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Three Boeing B-52H Stratofortress bombers were deployed from Minot AFB, North Dakota to RAF Fairford from June 5-19 to take part in exercises Baltops and Saber Strike in Eastern Europe.

Britain can sometimes seem detached to the concerns of NATO’s easternmost members and their concerns about the growing aggressiveness of Russia.

So the arrival of U.S. bombers into RAF Fairford earlier this month has been a timely reminder of the assurance and deterrence these symbolic aircraft continue to have, long after the end of the Cold War.

Three Boeing B-52H Stratofortress bombers were deployed from Minot AFB, North Dakota to RAF Fairford from June 5-19 to take part in exercises Baltops and Saber Strike in Eastern Europe. Baltops, mainly a maritime exercise, took place off the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, while Saber Strike saw the B-52s flying close air support missions in Poland.

Also taking advantage of B-52 deployment were two flights of two B-2 Spirits, which made brief visits to Fairford as part of Global Power training flights.

Among the firsts on the deployment was a close air support mission dropping inert weapons on a Latvian military range coordinated by a Latvian forward air controller. Crews made use of the Sniper laser designator fitted to the pylon between the engines on the starboard wing. The B-52s also conducted low-level mine-laying flights using Mk-67 Quick Strike inert mines as part of the Baltops exercise, a mission still routinely trained for by the B-52 community, providing the ability seal off an area of water very quickly.

Missions usually lasted between six and 11 hours, usually without refueling, and were even escorted on at least one occasion by Swedish Air Force Saab Gripens.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us to assure our allies in addition to deterring any strategic attacks as well,” said Lt. Col. Brad Dyer, commander of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron.

While U.S. European Command makes cutbacks across Europe, including the planned closure of RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk in the early 2020s, Fairford’s status as a key operating location for Air Force Global Strike Command, has not been impacted.

The base is able to be rapidly activated should the need arise. The next time the base comes alive, however, should be for the Royal International Air Tattoo on July 17-19.

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