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The beginning of June saw three Boeing B-52H Stratofortresses from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and approximately 800 Air Force Global Strike Command personnel deploy to RAF Fairford, U.K. for the third year running. Supporting a number of exercises with the United States joint-partners and NATO Allies, the deployment of strategic bombers to the U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa’s forward operating location for the USAF’s strategic bombers, provides important integration and interaction with the United States' NATO allies and partner nations. During the two-week deployment to the U.K, which took place 1-16th June, the B-52s supported three regional exercises; Arctic Challenge, Saber Strike and BALTOPS, the exercises providing USAF Airmen with the experience of working alongside other branches of the U.S. military and 14 other countries.

It might get older, but it never gets less impressive. The sight and sound of a Global Strike Command B-52 in all its glory is an experience you’ll never forget. The aging but irreplaceable ‘BUFF’ is old, slow and uncomfortable to fly in, but it is among the longest serving warplanes in history and remains one of the United States Air Forces most valuable assets. It can reach any target in the world. It can fly at over six hundred miles an hour, over eight miles high, and over eight thousand miles distance without refuelling. On a single mission, one of these airplanes - Just one - can carry a greater destructive force than that of all the bombs dropped by the entire Allied air forces during the whole of World War Two. It has been the backbone of the USAF bomber force for over 70 years! As the former Air Force Chief of Staff and strategic bombing pioneer, General Curtiss E. Le May said; “Fighters are fun, but bombers are important”.

'Peace is Our Profession' were the words that used to grace Strategic Air Command bases. Now known as Global Strike Command, the mission is pretty much the same. Introduced into service in 1985, unlike the B-52 which was built initially to fly at high altitude, the B-1B Lancer (known colloquially as the ‘Bone’) was designed from the outset to go into combat at tree-top level. Faster, harder to pick up on radar and harder to hit than the B-52, the Bone has always had its critics, but the aircraft has a good safety record and is capable of carrying a larger payload than any other aircraft in the U.S inventory. In service since 1985, the B-1B is still a capable aircraft; it may not be able to survive in a high-threat environment like the B-2, but with the Air Force having added a host of precision-guided munitions, data-links and sensors into the aircraft to keep it relevant into the future, the Bone will be around for a number of years to come. Capable of carrying a conventional payload of guided or unguided weapons, the supersonic B-1B has a four-man crew (Pilot/Aircraft Commander, Co-pilot and two Weapons System Operators) and conducts a variety of mission types.

Exercise Arctic Challenge
During the period 22nd May to 2nd June, Sweden, Finland and Norway held Exercise Arctic Challenge (ACE -17), with Finland being the lead nation and responsible for the exercise. Held for the third time, the Nordic co-operation and the cross-border agreements between the countries helped further development of previous exercises and is scheduled to be carried out in alternate years.

We would like to specifically thank the following for their help in completing this article:-

501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

USAFE Public Affairs, Ramstein

The crews and personnel of the 2nd Bomb Wing, 20th Bomb Wing, 28th Bomb Wing and 509th Bomb Wing

The 'Sniper' Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP) can clearly be seen mounted below the forward fuselage in the image above

ACE-17 saw more than 100 aircraft participating from eleven different countries and involving approximately 3,500 personnel. The goal of ACE-17 is that pilots from several nations will be able to co-operate with different aircraft types in large Composite Air Operations (COMAO), where tactics and procedures are practiced in a realistic environment with simulated air defence systems.

The exercise scenario is an international peace-promoting crisis management effort under UN mandate, conducted from three different bases and three countries – Luleå Air Base, Sweden; Bodö Air Base, Norway; and Rovaniemi Air Base, Finland. The exercise saw two missions per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Primarily a fast-jet based exercise; ACE-17 saw participation by Swedish JAS-39 Gripens, Finnish and Swiss F-18 Hornets, Norwegian and Belgian F-16s, British Tornados, French Mirage 2000s and Rafales; and USAF F-15 Eagle aircraft. However ACE-17 also saw several nations operating transport, aerial-refuellers, helicopters, ELINT/AEW aircraft and a single B-52H Stratofortress, which participated in the exercise prior to arriving at RAF Fairford as part of a Global Power Mission.

RAF Fairford is the United States Air Forces primary bomber forward operating location in Europe, ready at a moment's notice to support large scale operations. Lt. General Richard M. Clark, Commander 3rd Air Force, together with U.S Chargé d'Affaires Lewis Lukens and crews from the 2nd, 28th and 131st Bomb Wings, spoke to the press at RAF Fairford on 12th June to highlight the U.S Air Force operations during the deployment of AFGSC bombers to the United Kingdom. The bomber crews also gave an insight into each aircraft's capabilities and the missions they conduct during the three exercises they are involved in across the European Theatre of operations.

 Exercise Saber Strike Field Training Exercise is an U.S Army Europe-led annual International military in Latvia took place between the 3rd and 15th of June. This year allied land and air forces under Latvian command, saw more than 2000 soldiers and airmen from Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, Poland, Slovakia and United States participate in the exercise. Saber Strike 17 is the seventh iteration of a long-standing U.S. Army Europe-led co-operative training exercise designed to enhance interoperability among Allies and regional partners.

#60-0021, callsign 'Buff 01', is seen shortly after landing at RAF Fairford

The aircraft wears the markings of the 96th Bomb Squadron

Wings swept fully forward, this B-1B Lancer, callsign #Bone 01, catches the early morning sun as it prepares to cross the hammerhead of Runway 27 at RAF Fairford

Two Northrop-Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bombers joined the B-1B Lancers and B-52H Stratofortresses on 9th June, and whilst not involved in the regional exercises that the B-1s and B-52s were participating in, the B-2s joined the other Air Force Global Strike Command assets as part of the recurring bomber assurance and deterrence operations, flying 'local' missions within U.K airspace during their time in the United Kingdom. "The bomber assurance and deterrence missions these three aircraft (types) are supporting are key to reinforcing our commitment to our allies in NATO, in a very visible, very tangible way, that we stand shoulder to shoulder with them, no matter what," said Col. Jared Kennish. This is the first time that all three types have operated together in the European theatre, and only the second time in AFGSC history that they have all deployed to one location, the first being Guam in August 2016. "This short-term deployment demonstrates the flexible global strike capabilities of the U.S. bomber force, and ensures bomber crews maintain a high state of readiness," said Kennish. "The training will provide opportunities to integrate capabilities with regional partners, and is part of the United States' commitment to supporting global security."

'Letting It All Hang Out'

Smoke pours from the tyres under hard braking as a B-1B comes to a full stop after a BALTOPS mission

The personnel from Whiteman Air Force Base that supported the B-2 operation at Fairford included members of the Missouri Air National Guard's 131st Bomb Wing. The 131st BW cleared a number of operational performance evaluations and readiness assessments to obtain full operational capability to perform the strategic bomber mission of the B-2 alongside the active duty 509th Bomb Wing, at both Whiteman and Fairford. The 131st BW has been a part of every previous bomber assurance and deterrence operation; however, this is the first time that the operations of all three strategic bombers has been led by a Guard unit, further signalling the full arrival of the 'Total Force' structure in Global Strike Command.

"There may have been a time early in our transition when people wondered if our two wings could make total force integration work in the B-2 operations, maintenance and support missions, but we've long since proved the concept at Whiteman. Operations like the ones we're supporting this month just put an exclamation point on our record of total-force team success" said Col. Jared Kennish.

Somewhere in there is a B-52 about to take-off!

Although clean in comparison to earlier B-52s, the H-model's eight engines still emit a considerable amount of smoke

With the majority of the missions from RAF Fairford commencing between 0500-0700 local time, an Airman from the 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepares inert Quick-Strike MK.62 mines to be loaded onto a B-52H Stratofortress early morning on 5th June in preparation for a BALTOPS mission


Global Strike Command @ RAF Fairford

On 7th June, six days after the arrival of the first B-52, two Rockwell B-1B Lancers arrived from Ellsworth Air Force Base to support the Global Strike Command force at RAF Fairford

Commencing in 1972, BALTOPS 2017 saw participation from 14 countries; (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, the United States and NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners: Finland and Sweden). The exercise involved 4,000 shipboard personnel, 50 ships and submarines and more than 50 aircraft and continues to be an excellent opportunity for NATO and regional partners to strengthen interoperability through a series of combined tactical manoeuvres and scenarios.

The aging but capable B-52 has been called into action by the USAF on a regular basis for more years than most can remember. With its ability to carry precision-guided ordnance over long distances (up to 8,800miles) unrefuelled, combined with a 70,000lb payload, the crew of five is capable of delivering a devastating blow to the enemy, using its combination of electro-optical sensors, Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) and the Lockheed-Martin AN/AAQ-33 Sniper advanced targeting pod. As Major Sarah Fortin (Asst. Director Operations, 20th Bomb Squadron told us; "You name it, we can do it".

This year's exercise had a particular focus on improving land, sea, and air operational capabilities with an additional key objective to train with Allies, including NATO's enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups. This year's participating nations included; Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom, as well as NATO units. Saber Strike 17 took place from 28th May to 24th June in four countries - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Wesley Pead is the fifth foreign exchange officer to take part in the Foreign Exchange Officer Programme between the U.S. Air Force and the RAF involving the B-2. Sqn Ldr. Pead spent two and a half years at Whiteman, participating in the exchange programme; “I still remember the first time I saw the B-2 Spirit,” he said. He was participating in combat training operations in the Tornado GR.4 at a Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; “I got the opportunity to see the B-2 up close and personal, I thought that was a privilege – little did I know one day I would fly this beautiful jet. If we’re going to combat together, we need to train together,” said Pead.

The first B-2 sortie was flown on 13th June by #88-0329, departing Fairford at 16:32 as 'Mytee 21'

The aircraft arrived back at Fairford at 05.10 the following morning

Named the 'Spirit of Bossier & Shreveport', B-52H #60-0002 displays the electro-optical sensors and Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensors mounted on the nose section of the aircraft. This particular aircraft flew the first BALTOPS mission on 2nd June as 'Buff 01', departing Fairford at 06.21 local time. It also flew the only B-52 mission for Arctic Challenge on 1st June, having completed the sortie prior to landing at RAF Fairford after its flight from the United States. 

RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, June 2017

The Rockwell B-1B Lancer is capable of conducting a numerous variety of missions. It has a crew of four (Pilot/Aircraft Commander, Co-pilot and two Weapons System Operators). The latest upgrade to the aircraft, known as Sustainment Block 16 (SB16), has added a Link-16 capability to the aircraft. The aircraft has three weapons bays (one of which can be used to carry an additional fuel tank to extend the aircraft's range during ferry-flights) capable of holding a variety of guided and unguided munitions, including up to 24 x GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). 

With the low early morning sun and a little mist in the foreground, #60-0021 holds short of Runway 27 prior to take-off, with a B-2 Spirit visible in the background, which had just landed from an overnight mission

The unmistakeable form of the B-2 is seen to good effect as it backtracks down the Fairford runway

During BALTOPS and Saber Strike, the B-1B performed a variety of missions, including Maritime Air Interdiction, Mine Laying, Maritime Reconaissance, Forward Air Control support, and Close Air Support

With its brake chute billowing behind, the mighty Buff trundles back to its parking spot

The 45th Exercise BALTIC OPERATIONS (BALTOPS) took place in the Baltic Sea area from 1st to 16th June. Primarily a maritime focused exercise, BALTOPS incorporates air, maritime, and ground assets from several NATO countries and U.S- Partner Nations were involved in the live training event. BALTOPS is a multi-national, maritime-focused exercise designed to provide high end training for the participants.

A B-52 banks overhead RAF Fairford as it does a 'run and break' prior to landing after an 11-hour mission

#61-0021 flew its first mission from RAF Fairford on 6th June

“These exercises are an excellent opportunity to display our global strike capability and our ability for sustained regional stability and security in different areas of operations,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Jared Kennish, the 322nd Air Expeditionary Group commander. “We are excited for the opportunity to work side-by-side with our NATO and regional partners,” Kennish said. “Integrating the strategic bomber with multi-national operations in a variety of scenarios and operating from a strategic forward location in European Command (EUCOM) is integral to our defence capabilities and vital to global security. The goal of these deployments is to strengthen our ability to operate together and build a partnership in contingency operations. These strategic bomber missions will provide us with an experience that we couldn’t replicate at our home station. This deployment allows us to not only become more familiar operating within the European area of operations, but it also enables us to increase our interoperability with our fellow airmen and regional partners,” Kennish said. “This provides us the opportunity to build a global perspective that all bomber airmen must have.”

Lt. Gen. Clark speaks to members of the press at RAF Fairford on 12th June,

watched on by U.S Chargé d'Affaires, Lewis Lukens and crews from the B-1, B-2 and B-52

"Today is an historic day, as we have the full complement of the U.S strategic bomber force in the European Theatre for the first time", said Clark. "Combined, this all-star line-up of eight bombers and 600+ Airmen represents our core mission of global strike and brings a highly potent capability to Europe. While they're here, our bombers will integrate with U.S and allied forces to showcase the strength and interoperability of our joint and coalition team. They will participate in multi-national exercises such as Arctic Challenge, Saber strike and BALTOPS in order to demonstrate how our team of allies can rapidly amass in a time and location of our choosing to deter and defend against any possible aggression." Asked about Fairford' involvement and future he went on to say; "RAF Fairford has been strategically important throughout because of the opportunity it affords us for rotational forces to come into the European Theatre, we're very familiar with it because we've operated out of here before in the past years, but as it stands right now we've kept it in a warm status, working with our RAF partners and local community so we can continue to operate. What we'd like to do is bring short-term deployments into RAF Fairford to participate in these kinds of exercises, and it has the ramp space, infrastructure, and the support facilities to support a force as we bring in here. So because of the way this base has been maintained, it remains a strategically important location and in my view will continue to do so, and become more important as the years go on."  He finished by adding that; "You don't have to be everywhere at once as long as you can be anywhere at a moment's notice."

A B-1B from the 34th Bomb Squadron based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, land's at RAF Fairford

Whilst not the most attractive looking aircraft, it's definitely the most devastating in terms of firepower

#88-0329 'Spirit of Missouri' is seen outside one of the two purpose-built B-2 hangars at RAF Fairford on 12th June 2017

“Fighters are fun, but bombers are important”

On 1st September 2014, Pead once more stepped foot on American soil and began his journey with the U.S. Air Force pilot exchange programme. Although Pead has been a pilot since getting his commission with the RAF in 2003, he had never flown an aircraft quite like the B-2. “It was very different, a little cooler. The first thing that struck me as I walked up to the B-2 was the size,” said Pead. “Once in the air, I was struck by how smooth she was to fly and overall how lucky I was to be given this opportunity.” He earned his combat mission-ready status by flying the aircraft 55 times throughout the last two years, totalling 300 hours. Pead’s tour in America comes to a close this week, as a new venture awaits him back home. He will now take up a role as a trials director for the F-35B Lightning II at the Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington. “My tactical, operational and strategic ways of thinking have developed,” said Pead. “I look forward to returning to the RAF to add a unique perspective to these areas as the RAF develops its F-35B community.”

“Undetected Inbound, Unscathed Outbound"  With its 7000 mile range, the Northrop Grumman (now Boeing) B-2A Spirit is utilised by the USAF to neutralise the enemy’s most valuable assets. The low-observability ‘Stealth Bomber’ as it is more commonly known, is able to penetrate the most densely defended targets using a combination of reduced infra-red, acoustic, electromagnetic , visual and radar signatures. These signatures make it difficult for even the most sophisticated air defence systems to detect, track and engage the B-2. The two B-2s scheduled for the deployment to RAF Fairford arrived on 9th June at 11.19 and 11.21 local time as 'Mytee 21' flight. Of note is the fact that although the B-2As deployed at the same time as the B-1 and B-52 bombers did for BALTOPS and Saber Strike, the B-2s did not participate in either exercise.  As with the visit by the B-2s back in 2014, the aircraft from Whiteman Air Force Base had a Royal Air Force Foreign Exchange Officer with them. Squadron Leader Wes Pead, a former RAF Tornado pilot, is the Assistant Director of Operations with the 13th Bomb Squadron at Whiteman and told us; "We're not participating in the exercises, we're here as part of the Bomber Assurance and Deterrence Mission, but we are flying local sorties from Fairford before we return back to Whiteman."

B-1B #85-0084 is seen taxying to its parking spot shortly after returning to RAF Fairford from a mission

The sinister shape of the B-2 is unmistakeable as it crosses the runway threshold at RAF Fairford

With the four General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines in full flow, the afterburners can clearly be seen

With 30,000lbs of thrust from each engine, the B-1B has a Mach 1.2 capabilty

​​Jetwash Aviation Photos