B-52H bombers cycled through bomber task force (BTF) deployments from the United Kingdom to Romania on March 4 and March 7, as the U.S. seeks to deter any Russian designs on NATO countries. The deployments come as Russian forces continue their attacks in Ukraine to topple the government there.
On March 4, B-52Hs assigned to the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., took off from RAF Fairford and exercised close air support (CAS) training alongside U.S. and German Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in Germany before heading to Romania to practice CAS there.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), said in a March 4 statement that BTF rotations “give us a critical opportunity to integrate and train with our allies and partners, especially during this difficult time.”
“Training together ensures the defensive power of NATO remains unmatched,” he said.
On March 7, two B-52Hs again cycled through a BTF exercise in eastern Romania near Moldova before heading to Bulgaria and then south over Greece.
In addition to possible nuclear payloads, the B-52H is able to carry 20 conventional Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles-Extended Range (JASSM-ER), which have a reach of some 600 miles.
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on March 1, Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said that STRATCOM had conducted 127 BTFs last year. In addition, Richard said that the B-52H Commercial Engine Replacement Program (CERP), the B-52H Radar Modernization Plan (RMP), and B-52H “survivable” nuclear, command, control and communications (NC3) were critical for STRATCOM.
To protect against possible Russian cyber attacks against the U.S. in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, STRATCOM “implemented a new construct to operationally harden NC3 systems against cyber threats to improve force readiness during competition and crisis,” Richard said in his prepared testimony. “We must mitigate these threats for future programs to field new uncompromised capabilities.”
Thus far, Russian ground forces have run into stiff Ukrainian opposition, significant supply problems, and unexpected numbers of troop, aircraft, and other equipment losses. A U.S. official said on March 4 that the Ukrainian Air Force still has a “significant majority” of its combat aircraft, including MiG-29s.
On March 5, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Rob Portman (R-N.H.), a member of the latter committee and co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, sent Pres. Biden a letter requesting that the U.S. provide combat aircraft to Eastern European countries that transfer their used inventories of Russian planes, such as MiG-29s, to Ukraine for use by the Ukrainian Air Force.
“The Ukrainian Air Force is in dire need of additional aircraft to replace combat losses and continue defending the skies over Ukraine,” the letter said. “We are aware of discussions between the United States, Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia to transfer a portion of their inventory of MiG and Sukhoi aircraft to Ukraine. A number of our Eastern European allies are in the process of divesting Soviet-era aircraft and recapitalizing their fleets with American-made jets. The Soviet-era aircraft being divested include platforms that the Ukrainian Air Force has experience flying and maintaining.”
“Time is of the essence, and the Ukrainian Armed Forces desperately need the aircraft that our allies may be willing to provide, if given the appropriate reassurances” the senators wrote. “We are committed to providing additional authorities and appropriations at your request to finance such transfers in support of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”