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Despite pandemic, Air Force continues long-range Bomber Task Force missions in Europe

Diana Stancy Correll

Despite pandemic, Air Force continues long-range Bomber Task Force missions in Europe
Recent long-range Bomber Task Force missions to Europe have sharpened the Air Force’s ability to operate in Europe and will continue, according to Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa.

“We have been able to — through COVID — find opportunities to leverage, frankly, a great working relationship with STRATCOM and Global Strike to leverage their capabilities in coordination and synchronization with our partners,” Harrigian said during a June 29 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event.

“We were able to generate these sorties and coordinate them from across Europe to facilitate training opportunities, demonstrate interoperability, and at the end of the day, ensure that as we continue to refine what I’ll call our muscle memory to operate across Europe,” Harrigian said. “These Bomber Task Forces afforded us a tremendous opportunity to do that and so we took advantage of it.”

The task force missions also demonstrate to potential adversaries that, despite the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing complications, the Air Force has maintained its ability to carry out complicated, simultaneous missions.

The Air Force has conducted a string of long-range Bomber Task Force missions this spring involving all three Air Force bomber aircraft.

For example, two B-2 Spirit bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, two B-52H Stratofortresses from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, and two B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana conducted a strategic bomber mission together in Europe on May 7, according to U.S. Strategic Command. The mission, which was designed to highlight the United State’s “synchronized strategic deterrence,” also included Indo-Pacific Command’s area of operations.

Additionally, B-1s from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota carried out a Bomber Task Force mission in Europe and the Black Sea region with Ukrainian Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums, and Turkish KC-135s for the first time ever on May 29.

More recently, two B-52s from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota participated in a long-range strategic Bomber Task Force mission earlier this month as part of the Baltic Operations maritime exercise, which involved 28 maritime units and 28 aircraft.

Specifically, one of the bombers flew with British and French aircraft assigned to the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission, and the other conducted a low-approach over the U.S. Navy command ship Mount Whitney.

“I would fully expect over time we’re going to continue to execute these,” Harrigian said. “We have found great value in these Bomber Task Force missions.”

The Air Force anticipates conducting multi-week Bomber Task Force deployments in Europe. Last year, B-2s from the 509th Bomb Wing out of Whiteman conducted a Bomber Task Force deployment starting in April at RAF Fairford in England, as did B-52s from the 2nd Bomb Wing based out of Barksdale in October.

Harrigian predicted that those kinds of deployments will pick up again at some point, in conjunction with shorter Bomber Task Force missions.

“Some have asked me when we’re going to go back to Fairford and those type of activities,” Harrigian said. “I don’t want to get into the details of that, but at some point we will continue those operations as we have previously executed, as we continue to execute these that launch from the CONUS.”


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