Indeed, as they routinely do when they operate from their homebase in Missouri, the two B-2s from the 509th Bomb Wing were involved a 20-hour training mission within USEUCOM and AFRICOM area of operation: the two stealth bombers, supported also by tankers launched from Lajes, Azores, flew to the south of Ascension, a volcanic island in the equatorial waters in South Atlantic Ocean, and back.
The aircraft took off on Wednesday at 15.00z LT and routed down towards Lands End and down towards an area off Portugal before running south down past the Canaries. They were refuelled by SPUR 61 flight south of the Azores taking them down towards the Cape Verde Islands. A second wave of tankers, SPUR 51 flight then refuelled them on their return journey before they arrived back at Fairford on Thursday 1200z.
Such round trip long range missions are normally flown from CONUS (Continental US), or from Diego Garcia and Andersen AFB at Guam, and are a bit rare from the UK even if RAF Fairford is one of three bases for B-2 operations outside the U.S.
Noteworthy, the Stealth Bombers mission was closely monitored by aircraft spotters and airband listeners who logged the aircraft throughout their flight (flown with radio callsign “ICOSA”).
Interestingly, while landing at the end of the mission flown the morning ahead of the 20 hr sortie, one of the B-2, AV-4 – 82-1069 “Spirit of Indiana” suffered a birdstrike, as the images taken by photographer Matthew Morris show (before and after the hit): fortunately, the “close encounter” did not cause any serious problem to the B-2, but it proved stealth bombers are invisible to radars…and birds.
The aircraft relocated to Europe to conduct training activity “in the U.S. European Command area of operations, providing opportunities for aircrews to sharpen skills in several key operational sets and become familiar with airbases and operations in the region.”
Whereas Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2014 is an annual multinational maritime exercise held in the Baltics with assets from 13 participating nations involved in training scenarios that include air, surface, subsurface and mine warfare, Saber Strike is a U.S. Army Europe-led security cooperation exercise which, focuses, on the three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
In such exercises as well as in real operations, the B-52s always play an important role: all weather nuclear deterrence aside, the Stratofortress can perform a wide variety of conventional missions ranging from the BAI (Battlefield Area Interdiction) to CAS (Close Air Support), to TASMO (Tactical Air Support to Maritime Operations), to SAR (Search And Rescue)… using GPS and Laser-guided bombs, cruise missiles and aerial mines.
Once there was Pivot to Asia. Nowadays there is a Pivot to the Baltics.
During the deployment to Fairford, lasting about two weeks (and according to rumors involving more B-52s coming from U.S. airbases in the next few days), a Stratofortress will also take part in the 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration in Graignes, France, on Jun. 7.
2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base to get first woman commander of a combat bomber wing in the next weeks.
Even if it has not been officially confirmed, according to the Times Col. Kristin E. Goodwin, a 1993 graduate of the Air Force Academy who’s served since June as vice commander of the 509th Bomb Wing (nation’s only B-2 Spirit unit at Whiteman AFB, Missouri), will be appointed to lead 2nd BW at Barksdale Air Force Base, in Lousiana in the next weeks.
Goodwin, with more than 2,700 hours in the B-2, EC-130 and C-130 aircraft, has recently got her Stratofortress qualification: a requirement to lead one of the U.S. Air Force’s premier bomb units.
Even if global strike missions are routinely conducted “to ensure the U.S. has a credible capability to respond to a variety of levels of threats and to provide the President a variety of options he may need to protect the nation or its allies and partners,” launching two B-52s and two B-2s in a synchronized strike attack training mission does not happen every day.
The U.S. Air Force has recently conducted a long-range mission with two B-52 Stratofortresses from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., and two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
The strategic bombers flew a non-stop for more than 20 hours and covered about 8,000 miles from their home stations to drop ordnance against target located inside Hawaii’s Pohakuloa military weapon range.
According to the Air Force, it was a coordinated range operation which included low approach training that enabled the air force to put their strategic force’s capability to plan, coordinate and execute such a complex mission with “the right mix” of attack platforms.
As reported by Jane’s Defense Weekly a Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman told the Interfax news agency on that it planned to establish a “missile-carrying regiment” on the Crimea near its capital, Simferopol. In a matter of a couple of years the Russian Air Force plans to have a base for a missile-carrying regiment of Tu-22M3 in the Black Sea.
“The need for [the Tu-22M3s] in the southern direction was always there, but now there are just the right conditions for them to return to the Crimea, which used to be called an unsinkable aircraft carrier,” said the spokesman according to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly.
In other words, a new Cold War is gearing up and Global Strike mission could soon become even more frequent.
As we reported few weeks ago, on Nov. 10, two B-52s, launched from Minot and Barksdale AFB for a training mission, flew hundreds of miles off course to give assistance to a Cessna plane that had lost radio contact with Anchorage Air Traffic Control Center in bad weather, over Alaska.
While all the details about the successful rescue mission were released by the U.S. Air Force and can be found here, little was known about the mission the two Buffs were flying when they received the distress call.
But, since then, we gathered some more information.
The two B52s that helped the Cessna were taking part in Exercise Global Thunder 14, the largest Air Force Global Strike Command/STRATCOM drills of 2013. They were just two of 18 B-52 Stratofortress aircraft and several B-2 Spirit stealth bombers airborne at that time. More than 22 KC-135s along with 24hr E-6B TACAMO and LOOKING GLASS were supporting the exercise that had started with a MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off).
Global Thunder is a yearly 10-day exercise which incorporates a nuclear war scenario of which most major CONUS air bases are simulated destroyed by ICBMs (InterContinental Ballistic Missiles). AFGSC launches its B-52s and B-2s under MITO procedures and simulate a nuclear attack on Russia. Ground forces are also deployed and simulate detonation reports.
Barksdale and Minot based B-52s conduct various routes which take some up through Alaska and over Canada hence they were over the area that Sunday when the Cessna was requesting assistance.
Noteworthy, the detour did not compromise the B-52 simulated nuclear retaliation on Russia.