B-52s Return To The US After Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1 Mission Comes To An End

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, three Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, and a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress fly together during Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Nov. 6, 2019 over the Barents Sea region of the Arctic Circle. This deployment allows aircrews and support personnel to conduct theater integration and to improve bomber interoperability with joint partners and allied nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Duncan C. Bevan)

During the deployment the bomber flew over 13 countries. A B-52 also made the type’s first ever landing in Greece.

After a month-long deployment to RAF Fairford, the B-52 Stratofortresses of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1 returned to their home base at Barksdale AFB on November 8, 2019. The four bombers, belonging to the 20th Bomber Squadron and the 96th Bomber Squadron of the 2nd Bomb Wing, arrived in the United Kingdom on October 10 and flew daily missions across NATO airspace.

In a press release on the day of the arrival, Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, said about the deployment: “Bomber Task Force rotations provide us with a consistent and near-continuous long-range weapon capability, and represent our ability to project air power around the globe. They also provide invaluable opportunities to train and integrate with our allies and partners in the Black Sea, Baltic and the Arctic regions.”

As anticipated by General Harrigian, the B-52 flew all over Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, with a mission also to Saudi Arabia. “The team arrived on 10 October with four B-52s, and in that time we’ve flown 32 sorties, we’ve integrated with 13 of our partner and allied nations here [in Europe]”, said Lieutenant Colonel John Baker, Commander of the 96th Bomb Squadron during the media day at the end of the deployment.

A U.S. Air Force 2nd Bomb Wing B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, takes off in support of Bomber Task Force Europe 20-1, Oct. 17, 2019, at RAF Fairford, England. This deployment allows aircrews and support personnel to conduct theater integration and improve bomber interoperability with joint partners and allied nations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ruano)

The bombers flew various missions over the Baltic region and a 12 hours mission over the Black Sea on Oct. 19, already covered by our editor David Cenciotti in a previous article with an OSINT analysis, and a couple of missions to the Eastern Mediterrean and Saudi Arabia, where a B-52 escorted by four Saudi F-15C Eagles performed a low pass over Prince Sultan Air Base on Nov. 1. During the return leg of the latter flight, the bomber diverted to Souda Bay due to adverse weather conditions at Fairford. The landing at Souda marked the first ever landing of a B-52 in Greece. The last mission before the end of the deployment saw a visit to the Arctic Circle on Nov. 6.

The bombers integrated with numerous allied assets during their flights, such as British Typhoons, French Rafales, Czech Gripens, Norwegian, Hellenic and Polish F-16s, Saudi F-15Cs, US Navy P-8s and US Air Force F-22s, which practiced training intercepts (or Tango Scrambles) and High Value Airborne Asset protection missions.

Also, during their stay in Europe, the bombers were joined by two other B-52 and two B-2 that took off from their bases in the USA, performed a flight mission over the Baltic region and then returned home, as part of Global Thunder 20, US Strategic Command’s annual nuclear command and control exercise.

Although not confirmed in an effort to preserve the operational security (OPSEC), it is rumored that the BUFFs (Big Ugly Fat Fellas, as the B-52s are affectionately known) will be back to Fairford next year, with possible visits also of B-1 and B-2 bombers.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.