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Show of force during coronavirus: All 3 types of USAF bombers fly long-range missions to Europe

In the last week, the Air Force has flown all three of its bomber aircraft on multiple long-range missions to Europe, from their home bases in the United States.

The flights were also partly intended to show the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing complications have not impaired the Air Force’s ability to carry out complicated, simultaneous missions.

On Monday, a B-1B Lancer from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota flew a long-range strategic Bomber Task Force mission to Europe, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Fores Africa said in a release. That was the wing’s second such flight in less than a week — the 28th also flew two Lancers to the Baltic region on May 5, on a mission that included training with the Danish air force.

And on Thursday, 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 flew to the U.S. European Command and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command geographic areas of responsibility, U.S. Strategic Command said in another release Monday.

A maintainer assigned to 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepares a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber for takeoff in support of U.S. Strategic Command at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., May 7. (Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman/Air Force)
A maintainer assigned to 509th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron prepares a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber for takeoff in support of U.S. Strategic Command at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., May 7. (Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman/Air Force)

Those flights were carried out so “U.S. Strategic Command [could demonstrate] the readiness and global reach of its long-range strategic bombers,” the Air Force said, and were coordinated with combatant commands and components across the world.

“This dynamic employment of [STRATCOM’s] long-range bombers and supporting aircraft showcased the United States’ ability to conduct synchronized strategic deterrence anywhere in the world with a ready, lethal force,” the Air Force said in the release on Thursday’s flights.

At least one of the B-52s was refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall in England.

The B-1 on Monday’s mission conducted integration and interoperability training with Danish F-16s over Denmark’s Bornholm Island in the Baltic Sea, as did the pair of B-1s last week. This B-1 was also joined by Polish F-16s and MiG-29s while flying over Warsaw, Poland, and then flew over Latvia and Lithuania.

In releases on both flights, the Air Force stressed that it continues to conduct operations and engage with allies and partners even during the ongoing pandemic.

“Despite the continued outbreak of COVID-19, we are committed to our mission in all domains (air, sea, land, space, cyber), and to the readiness of our allies and partners,” USAFE said in both releases.

A B-52 Stratofortress breaks away from a KC-135 Stratotanker after receiving fuel during a strategic bomber mission on May 7. (Tech. Sgt. Emerson Nuñez/Air Force)
A B-52 Stratofortress breaks away from a KC-135 Stratotanker after receiving fuel during a strategic bomber mission on May 7. (Tech. Sgt. Emerson Nuñez/Air Force)

“The health of our team has been a top priority from the start of our COVID response and is key to sustaining missions like the bomber task force,” USAFE Commander Gen. Jeffery Harrigian said in the B-1 release. “Although mitigation efforts created challenges to overcome, our allies, partners and adversaries should make no mistake that we are ready, able and willing to deter and defend when called upon.”

The B-1 was also refueled by a KC-135 from the 100th, allowing it to fly from Ellsworth to Europe and back without stopping, USAFE said.

A B-1B Lancer flies with a Danish F-16 during a training mission for Bomber Task Force Europe, May 5, 2020. (Courtesy photo by Danish Air Force)
A B-1B Lancer flies with a Danish F-16 during a training mission for Bomber Task Force Europe, May 5, 2020. (Courtesy photo by Danish Air Force)
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