Tracking The U.S. B-52 Bombers Deploying To Qatar In Response To Iranian Threat In The Persian Gulf

Composite image created using U.S. Air Force images as well as ADSBExchange and other flight tracking websites (via @PeterHarley and @Gerjon_)

The U.S. Air Force is positioning four B-52s to Qatar. And, for the very first time, at least one of the Stratofortress bombers could be tracked online as it deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base to Al Udeid.

As you probably already know by now, U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has ordered repositioning a carrier strike group and redeploying strategic bombers as part of a BTF (Bomber Task Force) to the Middle East in response to “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” related to Iran.

The first two of four B-52 bombers, radio callsign “MYTEE 51-52” have arrived to Al Udeid, Qatar, from their homebase at Barksdale AFB, Lousiana, on May 8; the second “wave” (MYTEE 53-54) followed on the same route on May 9. While “Buffs” regularly deploy across the world and are visible almost daily on flight tracking websites, this Middle East deployment marked the very first time a B-52 bomber deploying to the CENTCOM area of responsibility could be monitored, live, during its transit from CONUS to destination.

Is this a big deal? Most probably not: the fact that the bombers were being deployed was far from secret. Still, the possibility to track the flight while in progress provided many insights including specific airframes taking part in the deployment, their support tankers, their route, etc. These details give aviation enthusiasts as well as analysts several much more information about the way the bombers deployed to Al Udeid than it would be possible to gather if the aircraft were not tracked.

What follows is a brief recap based on OSINT (Open Sources Intelligence) of the details that ADS-B, Mode-S and MLAT provided about the first pair of B-52s that could be tracked online via information in the public domain as they deployed to the Middle East.

For instance, we know that MYTEE 51 and MYTEE 52 had AAR support by SPUR91, SPUR92 during the first part of their oceanic crossing and were supported by QID361 and QID362 in Europe. Similarly, MYTEE 53 and MYTEE 54 were respectively supported by SPUR91 and SPUR92 (US), and QID363 and QID364 (EU).

Then, you can also listen to the “Buffs” as they talk the ATC (Air Traffic Control) over France:

Later on May 8, the aircraft could be tracked as they flew more or less eastbound over the Mediterranean Sea:

As some flight trackers pointed out not all B-52s keep their ADS-B/Mode-S transponders turned on during the flight. Still, when they do, they appear on flight tracking websites.

Interestingly, based on cross analysis of available photographs with transponder hex codes allows tie-ups that can be useful to determine or confirm whether a bomber is a nuclear-capable one or not:

In fact, nuclear-capable B-52Hs can be identified because they sport the “New START fins” on both sides of the fuselage. According to Hans Kristensen, these are external identifiers under the treaty that are removed when aircraft are converted to non-nuclear capability.

Summing up, once again, ADS-B, Mode-S and MLAT as well as the right flight tracking websites and Twitter feeds. can provide a ton of useful details that OSINT can “translate” into even more interesting stuff and insights about on-going operations. As happened, for instance, on Apr. 13 and 14 last year, during the trilateral air strike on Syria.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.