The U.S. Air Force is sending four B-1s and 200 airmen to Norway in coming weeks
The U.S. Air Force is sending four B-1s and 200 airmen to Norway in coming weeks, in a first-of-its-kind deployment for the huge, swing-wing bombers.
The B-1s from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas will fly from Orland, an airfield in central Norway that also hosts Norwegian air force F-35 stealth fighters.Related: U.S. bombers enter air space of Ukraine
Expect the bombers and fighters to spend several weeks training together alongside ships, planes and ground forces from across NATO, in particular the alliance’s northern members.
“Operational readiness and our ability to support allies and partners and respond with speed is critical to combined success,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Africa commander.
The cold-weather B-1 jaunt is a follow-up of sorts to last fall’s epic deployment of Air Force B-52s to the United Kingdom. Those bombers ranged all over Europe, training with allied fighters and luring Russian forces into intelligence-gathering traps.
The point of the coming B-1 mission is clear. “This seems to be a concerted effort to back up our allies, and to begin applying pressure to the Russians in a manner they understand,” said Jerry Hendrix, a military expert and author of To Provide and Maintain a Navy.Related: US bombers simulated use of new anti-ship missiles in Black Sea
Northern Europe long has been a bomber playground—for the Russians, especially. Tu-95, Tu-22M and Tu-160 bombers routinely train over northern waters and probe NATO and Swedish air space.
The ultra-long-range Tu-160s have flown through the North Atlantic on a circuitous route to the Middle East for strikes on rebel targets in Syria.
There’s a language to these operations. Bombers don’t just bomb. They signal. That is, they communicate intent and, in that way, wield influence without lobbing a single munition.
The Russians “have been flying their bombers into the North Atlantic and around the United Kingdom, and this suggests that we are demonstrating that two can play at that game,” Hendrix said of the B-1 deployment.
Norway is one of NATO’s gateways to the vitally important North Sea and Arctic Ocean. The stretch of sea straddling Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom—the so-called “GIUK Gap”—forms a potential barrier to Russian submarines and surface warships attempting to access the open ocean.
It’s for this reason that, in the 1980s, the air and sea surrounding Norway were venues for huge NATO war games. Hendrix credited those exercises for signaling NATO’s resolve during the final, desperate years of the Soviet Union.
A generation later, the alliance is mobilizing against a resurgent Russia. The B-1 deployment is one of America’s contributions to that campaign, Hendrix said. “We may be not-too-subtly telling [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, ‘You want to play this game again? You know how it turned out for you the last time.’”
The B-1s could focus on their new maritime mission. Late in its nearly 40-year career, the roughly 45-strong B-1 force is getting new Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles and adopting new tactics for striking ships at sea.
A single B-1 can pack as many as 24 of the stealthy, 300-mile-range LRASMs. A flight of several B-1s thus could deliver roughly the same anti-ship firepower as an entire U.S. Navy carrier air wing. And the type’s long range—thousands of miles between refuelings—gives it freedom of maneuver over the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Missile-armed B-1s could pose a serious threat to Russia’s Northern Fleet. In staging the bombers from Norway, the United States obviously intends to make that threat perfectly clear.
“Bottom line is that this movement will get Putin’s undivided attention,” Hendrix said.