A pair of B-52H Stratofortress bombers flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Europe Monday to help support the Baltic Operations maritime exercise.

The B-52s, from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot, carried out a long-range, long-duration Bomber Task Force mission, United States Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa said in a release Monday — the latest in a series of such missions the Air Force has carried out in recent weeks.

“Long-range strategic bomber missions to the Baltic region are a visible demonstration of our capability to extend deterrence globally,” USAFE commander Gen. Jeff Harrigian said in the release. “Our participation in BALTOPS also provides an opportunity for us to strengthen relationships with our NATO allies and partners while operating in the air and sea domains.”

This BALTOPS exercise — the 49th such exercise — began June 7, and is the biggest maritime-focused exercise in Europe’s Baltic Sea region, which includes nations such as Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia. It included air and maritime assets from 19 nations, including NATO allies and partners, that took part in live training events including air defense, anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction and mine countermeasure operations. It ended Tuesday.

One B-52 trained with Typhoons from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force, and French Mirage 2000s, which were assigned to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission. This bomber also flew over Tallinn, Estonia, Riga, Latvia and Vaindloo Island in the Baltic Sea.

The other B-52 conducted a low approach over the amphibious command ship Mount Whitney, USAFE said. The Mount Whitney is the flagship and command ship of the United States Sixth Fleet in support of BALTOPS.

A KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall in England refueled the bombers so they could carry out the round-trip flight from Minot.

This year’s BALTOPS included 28 maritime units, 28 aircraft, and 3,000 personnel from nations such as the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the U.K.

But while one more nation took part this year than participated last year, the 2019 BALTOPS was much bigger. Last year’s exercise involved 50 surface ships, 36 aircraft, and 8,600 personnel. In April, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of of U.S. European Command, said the exercise could be scaled back or even canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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