June 2015 and once again RAF Fairford played host to a deployment of heavy bombers from the United States Air Force's 'Global Strike Command'. Almost a year previously to the day, RAF Fairford had seen the 2nd Air Expeditionary Group deploy three Boeing B-52H Stratofortress and two Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirits to Fairford, the first time that a such mixed deployment had taken place in the United Kingdom and in fact the first time B-52s had been deployed there for some eleven years. As a long-standing key strategic Forward Operating Location (FOL) for the US Air Force, Fairford had seen numerous deployments of heavy bombers throughout the years, dating back to before the first Gulf War in 1991.
Seen rotating from Fairford's Runway 09, is one of the two aircraft belonging to the 69th Bomb Squadron that deployed
During our visit we also had a chance to speak with Lt Col. Bradley Dyer (above left), the 23rd EBS Commander, who gave us further insight into the deployment to RAF Fairford. "We brought three B-52s out from Minot, North Dakota to RAF Fairford to forward deploy as part of two exercises, particularly Baltops and Saber Strike.
For Baltops, we are integrating with both United States European Command (USEUCOM) and allied forces in the Baltic region. Integrating with aircraft and maritime forces from 15 different nations, we will be executing mine drops and integrating with air assets. The other exercise we are integrating with is Saber Strike, which is out near Poland. We are going to do close air support (CAS) and ground strikes. One of our highlights already has been employing inert ordnance in Latvia using Latvian controllers, the first time this has happened." He went on to tell us; "RAF Fairford is a very strategic location for us as a bomber as it gives us the capability to exercise our strategic bombing capability and is a great opportunity for us to assure our allies in addition to deterring any strategic attacks as well." He went on to tell us that 302 personnel had deployed to Fairford, made up from across a variety of Global Strike Command units. The majority are from Minot, but incudes personnel from Whiteman AFB and from Barksdale AFB, which included aircrew. In total six B-52 crews had deployed to Fairford for the two exercises. Asked whether any of the crews were the same as those that took part in the deployment to Fairford in 2014, Lt. Col Bradley told us; "We try to cycle our crews through so they all have the opportunity to train, but there are a couple of crews who came here last year.
#82-1069 competed a hot-refuel on 8th June. Arriving at 20.10 and departing at 22.24 local time
The 2015 BALTOPS exercise consisted of some 5,600 air, ground and maritime forces; consisting of air defence, maritime interdiction, anti-submarine, anti-surface and amphibious units. Although a primarily US-led exercise, responsibility for the exercise is controlled by Commander, Naval Strike and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO). A total of 61 aircraft took part in BALTOPS, together with 49 ships and a combined landing force of 700 Swedish, Finnish and US troops. Participants in BALTOPS 2015 consisted of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The exercise commenced on 8th June when 17 ships left the port of Gdynia, Poland. The 23rd EBS B-52 Stratofrotresses departed RAF Fairford early that same morning on their first mission at 09:06 local time, when #60-0018 (call-sign; 'Icer 11') and #60-0047 (call-sign; 'Icer 12') took off from the base, returning at 16:55 that afternoon. During BALTOPS the B-52s simulated a mine laying mission over the Baltic Sea supporting a naval invasion near Ravlunda, Sweden. Using Mk.62 mines, a variant of the Mk.82 500lb general purpose bomb, was dropped during a high-speed, low-altitude bombing run. The mine uses an Mk.57 Target Detection Device (TDD) to detect a ship passing above, detecting the vessel by the pressure the ship's bow-wave causes in the water and also by the magnetism of the ship’s metal hull.
The B-52H Stratofortress aircraft deployed to RAF Fairford under the guise of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (23 EBS) from Minot and arrived on 5th June as 'Zarp 43, Zarp 44 and Zarp 45', with the last aircraft touching down at 19.37 local time. Two of the aircraft departed Fairford the following day (8th June), presumably on familiarisation flights, with the first missions in support of exercise Saber Strike and exercise BALTOPS being flown the following day on 9th June. Those first missions involved the B-52s, lasting approximately nine hours, saw the aircraft flying through allied airspace to Poland, which saw them conduct a low pass and completing combat air support missions with Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTACs) from Poland.
'Icer 11' returns to RAF Fairford from a mission on the morning of 11th June 2015
Major Luke Dellenbach, Director of Staff with the 69th Bomb Squadron said, "We practice our capabilities all the time at Minot, but to do it in Poland and with our allies is good training. Doing what we normally do, but across the world in allied air space shows the global deterrence factor of being a 'Cold War' era aircraft. The BUFF (the B-52 is known colloquially as the Big Ugly Fat Fella, or BUFF) has been around a long time; we still got it.We're still doing what we've been doing for over 50 years".
Inert mines seen being loaded onto a B-52H and seen in situ (right) at RAF Fairford prior to a mission over Sweden during BALTOPS (courtesy USAF)
Boeing B-52H Stratofortress The B-52H is a long-range, heavy bomber that is capable of performing a variety of missions. Able to fly at high subsonic speeds and at altitudes up to 50,000 feet (15,166m), it can carry either nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance and has a worldwide precision navigation capability. In a conventional conflict, the B-52H can perform strategic attack, close air support (CAS), air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations.
During Desert Storm (Gulf War 1991), B-52s (some of which operated from RAF Fairford), delivered 40 percent of all ordnance dropped by coalition forces and despite its age, it is still a highly effective aircraft. All B-52s remaining in the US inventory are equipped with two electro-optical viewing sensors, a forward-looking infrared and an advanced 'Sniper' targeting pod. The cockpit is also night vision goggle (NVG) capable. With the recent upgrade from the 'Litening' targeting pod to the 'Sniper' pod, improved long-range target detection/identification and continuous stabilised surveillance in all weathers, both day and night now gives the crew an improved situational awareness of the target and its surroundings, together with a much improved 'hit' rate with all types of weapons.
Despite the introduction of the Rockwell B-1B Lancer and the B-2A Spirit, the B-52 has continued to provide the backbone of the United States manned strategic bomber force for over 40 years. With its numerous upgrades, the mighty BUFF has continued to remain as the Air Forces 'weapon of choice' in numerous scenarios. It still strikes fear into its adversaries and will continue in service well into the 21st Century as an important element of its nation's defences. With the first H-model being delivered in May 1961, the last remaining BUFFs could quite easily reach their 80th birthday before retirement, something inconceivable when they rolled off the Wichita production line. And finally something to ponder, despite its 60+ years of service to date, it is most likely that the last B-52 pilot hasn't even been born yet!
One of two 69th Bomb Squadron B-52s deployed to Fairford in 2015
The deployment to RAF Fairford consisted of three B-52Hs from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot, with alll three aircraft carrying 'nose-art' on the port side (#60-0018 'POW-MIA', #60-0047 'Neanderthal' and #61-0040 'Spirit of Minot'). The deployment in 2014 had included a mix of aircraft from both Minot AFB and Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Despite the three aircraft operating from Fairford for this exercise all being from the 5th BW, we had it confirmed that crews and ground personnel involved were from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot and the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale.
The eight-engine B-52H still provides a powerful punch, despite its age and it is still the mainstay of the USAF bomber fleet
82-1069 'Spirit of Indiana' was one of four B-2A Spirits that completed trans-Atlantic missions to Fairford during the deployment
Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit The B-2A is a multi-role bomber, capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear weapons. The represented a major leap forward in technology and capability when it was publicly displayed for the first time on 22nd November 1988 at Plant 42, Palmdale, California. With its first flight following on in July 1989, the fleet of 20 aircraft were all based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri with the 509th Bomb Wing.
With its revolutionary blending of low-observable technologies, high aerodynamic efficiency and large payload, the B-2 has tremendous advantages over conventional bombers in that it has a unique ability to penetrate enemy defences that would normally be considered either impenetrable or to high-risk. Operated by just a crew of two, it has a range of approximately 6000 miles (9600km) and has proven itself in combat during Operation Allied Force, destroying 33 percent of all Serbian targets in the first eight weeks of the conflict, by flying non-stop from Whiteman to Kosovo and back. Since then the B-2 has participated in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The B-2 Spirit has two internal weapon bays that can each carry up to 30,000 pounds of ordnance. The B-2 can carry a wide range of nuclear and conventional weapons including B61 and B83 thermonuclear bombs, Mk.82 and Mk.84 general purpose bombs, the AGM-154 Joint Stand-off Weapon (JSOW), AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM) and the GBU-31/38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). The largest weapon in the B-2's arsenal is the massive GBU-57, a 30000lb Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) for use against hardened, deeply buried targets and capable penetrating 200ft of concrete.
Major Dellenbach told us "Our crew is pretty experienced. It's our first Saber Strike exercise, but not our first high-visibility exercise or higher quarter directed mission". Using the B-52 in a Global Power mission from a FOL like Fairford allows the aircraft to shows its true worth in the deterent mode. In line with integrating the US Air Force's (USAF's) bomber capabilities, B-2A Spirits (stealth bombers) flew directly from Whiteman AFB on the 7th and 8th June, flying directly back to Whiteman after performing a 'hot-refuel' and crew change at Fairford. Master Sgt Craig Smith of the 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (509 AMS) said, "Flying the B-2 here solidifies the alliance we have with several of our allies, the commitment we provide and the power we demonstrate, which we were able to showcase on this platform with refuelling the aircraft in minimal time. The crews that are out here wre able to get the B-2 refuelled in minimal time and send it on its way."
Saber Strike Exercise Saber Strike is an annual long standing US Army-led training exercise aimed to improve the co-operation and capabilities of the participating nations for future contingency operations. Participants in Saber Strike 2015 consisted of Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The exercise trains participants on command and control, as well as interoperability with their regional partners. Conducted in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, the exercise consists of field and situational training. Integrating the ground forces with U.S close air support (CAS), joint multi-national training in a variety of missions is designed to help the participating nations improve their support of multi-national contingency operations around the world.
The unmistakeable sight of a B-2 'Stealth Bomber' taxying in after landing at RAF Fairford
#60-0018 weaves its way back to its parking spot at RAF Fairford after a morning mission
In recent years these deployments became more and more sporadic, until eventually they became no more. A number of factors may be behind their appeared demise, the breakdown of the communist bloc, easing tensions in the middle east and the reduction in budgets probably all played their part, who knows? However, following the deployment in 2014, which was according to Adm. Cecil Haney (Commander, US Srategic Command) to "Strengthen and improve inter-operability with our allies and partners", we now have a further deployment of three B-52Hs from Minot Air Force Base AFB), North Dakota stationed at RAF Fairford to take part in two ongoing exercises, BALTOPS 2015 and Saber Strike 2015.
'USAF Bombers in Britain 2015'
23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, RAF Fairford
We would like to thank the following for their assistance in completing this article:-
Lt Col. Bradley Dyer (23 EBS Commander)
MSgt Zachary Melin (509BW Public Affairs)
1st Lt Alexis McGee (501 CSW Public Affairs)
The crews and personnel of the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron
Kerry at www.bomberpatches.com
'Icer 11' powers out of RAF Fairford on a morning mission over the Baltic Sea