In a clear show of force, the U.S. is sending two nuclear-capable B-2 stealthb to England on a short-term mission in what a U.S. European Command statement described as “recurring bomber assurance and deterrence operations.” Translation: we’re not fucking around, Russia.
The B-2s, based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, will join three B-52 Stratofortresses and three B-1B Lancers that have already been deployed to Royal Air Force Fairford to participate in U.S. European Command exercises known as Saber Strike and BALTOPS. The exercises are designed to familiarize aircrew with air base operations at different geographic combatant commands.
Fourteen 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) are participating in the BALTOPS training.
This will be the first time all three bomber aircraft have been deployed in the European theater at the same time, which likely raises eyebrows in Moscow. Just a few days ago, a Sukhoi Su-27 jet intercepted a nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bomber Moscow claims was flying near its border over the Baltic Sea, according to CNBC; CNN reporter Jim Sciutto tweeted today that a Su-27 intercepted a B-52 today as well.
B-52 Stratofortresses have been in service since the 1950s and patrolled borders of the former Soviet Union during the Cold War as part of the nuclear deterrent. With a range of 8,000 miles, they can fly at high subsonic speeds at altitudes up to 50,000 feet and can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnances.
The B-2 Sprit can travel at high subsonic speeds and fly up to 50,000 feet. During Operation Allied Force, it took out 33 percent of all Serbian targets during the first eight weeks, flying nonstop to Kosovo from its base in Missouri.
Moving at speeds of up to 900 miles per hour (Mach 1.2 at sea level), the B-1 Lancer has intercontinental range and can carry a payload of up to 75,000 pounds. It is no longer a nuclear aircraft because of New START requirements, but the B-1 is still an extremely deadly conventional aircraft. It has a very accurate GPS-aided Inertial Navigation System that enables aircrews to fly without ground-based navigation assistance.
Among the many armaments the B-1 Lancer can carry, it’s able to fly with up to 84 500-pound Mark-82 or 24 2,000-pound Mark-84 general purpose bombs. Additionally, it can be loaded with up to 24 AGM-158A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and 15 GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).
Tensions between Washington and Moscow have been chilly for a while, but they reached a boiling point during George W. Bush’s last year in office when Russian forces invaded Georgia in 2008. But relations deteriorated further in 2014, when Russia invaded eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea.
Around the same time Russia was supporting separatists in Ukraine, the U.S. Air Force deployed two B-2 Stealth bombers to Europe without specifying a threat they were responding to. The same thing happened in 2015 when a pair of B-2 Spirit stealth bombers joined a trio of B-52s at Royal Air Force Base Fairford.
These deployments certainly will not bring the Kremlin any comfort—especially since Donald Trump appears want to support NATO now. He has flip-flopped on his commitment to NATO in the past, though he told a reporter today that he is committed to Article 5 of the NATO constitution that calls for all members to support each other in the event of an attack—which, historically, has been expected to come from Russia.
A war won’t come of this historic deployment of bombers, but neither will better relations between the White House and the Kremlin.