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.
USAF B-52Hs MYTEE51 & 52 departed Barksdale AFB en route to Al Udeid AB, Qatar.
USAF KC-10As SPUR91 & 92 from McGuire AFB provided initial tanker support. pic.twitter.com/UyFE43Dzao
— Aircraft Spots (@AircraftSpots) May 8, 2019
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).
#QID361 & #QID362
Departed Mildenhall around 0430z, providing #AAR for MYTEE51/52
— SR Airband & Aviation 📡✈🌍 (@Andy007_SR_A) May 8, 2019
Then, you can also listen to the “Buffs” as they talk the ATC (Air Traffic Control) over France:
B-52H Callsign MYTEE51 talking with Bordeaux control en-route to Al Udeid Air Base Qatar. Discussion about two way points BEPER and TINOT.https://t.co/f3uWfwepVD#potn #avgeeks #B52 pic.twitter.com/XDGnJbQbPB
— planes on the net (@planesonthenet) May 8, 2019
Later on May 8, the aircraft could be tracked as they flew more or less eastbound over the Mediterranean Sea:
Current location of #USAF B-52s MYTEE51 & 52 heading to Al Udeid Airbase, Qatar. In reaction to a real & credible threat from Iran in the region pic.twitter.com/XMkVfWo17m
— Peter Harley (@PeterHarley20) May 8, 2019
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.
United States Air Force B-52H Stratofortress aircraft (MYTEE51) heading into the Middle East. Mind you, they’re not necessarily on radar! Their Mode-S transponders get shut off regularly, and some don’t have one at all. #potn #avgeek https://t.co/popRClUIE2 pic.twitter.com/PLuSHO2W5g
— Gerjon | חריון (@Gerjon_) May 8, 2019
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:
Four USAF #B52 nuclear-capable strategic bombers have been deployed to Al Udeid Air Base 🇶🇦
🇺🇸 US Air Force #USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress
h/t @AircraftSpots for 4!https://t.co/VNu90lgBzH
— Steffan Watkins (@steffanwatkins) May 9, 2019
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.
It appears that at least two of the B-52Hs in the Bomber Task Force sent to Middle East are nuclear-capable. https://t.co/Hjs7Lsj51J https://t.co/4T1TZLiKINhttps://t.co/kxAsRZtYG4 pic.twitter.com/WweEYV27LK
— Hans Kristensen (@nukestrat) May 9, 2019
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.