B-2 stealth bombers are learning new tricks in Europe, but it's not only about sending a message to Russia
- B-2 Spirit stealth bombers landed in the United Kingdom in August for deployment as part of the Bomber Task Force.
- The deployments aren't new, but this time around, the B-2s are showing off their skills in different parts of Europe.
- Within days of arriving, the B-2s had done several new things that may have been as much about sending a message to rivals as they were about testing pilots and crews.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Three US Air Force B-2 Spirit stealth bombers, airmen, and support equipment from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri arrived in the United Kingdom on August 27 for a Bomber Task Force deployment.It's not the first time B-2s have flown out of RAF Fairford, the Air Force's forward operating location for the bombers.Advertisement
The presence is a "continuation" of what the US military and European partners have done since Russia seized Crimea in 2014, said Jim Townsend, adjunct senior fellow in the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. "It's a matter of just continuing to show that we can operate at any level, whether it's with a B-2 or it's a lower level, [and] then we can operate where we need to in Europe, including in the Arctic."
But within days of arriving the B-2s had done several new things that may have been as much about sending a message to rivals as they were about testing pilots and crews."B-2s and bombers have always been as much about the signaling as the capability," said Christopher Skaluba, director of the Transatlantic Security Initiative at the Atlantic Council.
See what the B-2s have been up to and for whom their message is meant.
In addition to training at Fairford, the B-2s were to train in Europe with Air Force units and other partners, which "contributes to our readiness and enables us to build enduring and strategic relationships necessary to confront a broad range of global challenges," US Air Forces Europe said in a release.
A day after arriving in the UK, a B-2 landed in Iceland — the bomber's first time there.Advertisement
"There's a proximity there, and also there is a redundancy," Townsend said of Iceland. "You've got Fairford, you've got Keflavik, you've got other places ... it's not just one spot that if you crater the runway that's it."
Astride sea lines between the North Atlantic and the Arctic, Iceland also likely provides "geographical advantages in terms of things we're worried about the Russians doing," Skaluba said. "There's probably, for certain missions or certain mission sets, a little bit of an advantage to use [Keflavik] over UK bases."Advertisement
The message may not only be for Russia.
A day after the Iceland landing, B-2s flew along the English coast with Royal Air Force F-35Bs. It was the first time the stealth bomber had flown with the British Joint Strike Fighter — and with any non-US F-35.Advertisement
"I think this may be just showing that when the US and the UK team up militarily, either bilaterally or within NATO, there's very few that can match our high-end capabilities," Skaluba said.
The B-2 and the F-35 are "strategic assets in different ways, so it might just be reminder to all of our competitors globally that when we work together we can really bring some firepower," Skaluba added.Advertisement
Like the B-2, the F-35 is a stealth aircraft, meant to evade air-defense systems like the ones stationed around Europe, particularly Russian systems across Eastern Europe.
The first-of-its-kind joint flight also came at a time when the US-UK special relationship might not be in the best shape, Skaluba added.Advertisement
In the darkness on September 5, a B-2 met a US tanker over the Norwegian Sea. The bomber was on "an extended duration sortie over the Arctic Circle," US Air Forces Europe said. "This familiarization was the B-2’s first mission this far north in the European theater."
The US has been more active in the Arctic in recent years, largely out of concern about competition in the region, particularly with Russia and China, as climate change makes it more accessible.Advertisement
The B-2s first Arctic flight may have been made possible by changing conditions there. "But really it's about the signaling," Skaluba said.
"There was a time right after Crimea when the Obama administration didn't want to do anything to provoke the Russians," Townsend said.Advertisement
The B-2s have continued to train around Europe in September, including a trip to the Azores where the bombers conducted hot-pit refueling, in which ground crew refuels an aircraft while its engines are running, allowing it to get back into the air as quickly as possible.
The bombers also performed touch-and-go drills at Fairford, during which the bombers land and take off again without coming to a complete stop, allowing pilots to practice many landings in a short period of time.Advertisement
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