Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force deployed B-52 Stratofortress bombers to Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford to take part in a long-planned Bomber Task Force mission. The bomber crews have been conducting integration missions and have landed in Czechia (Czech Republic) to practice quick-turn sortie regeneration—where an aircraft shuts down its engines, repacks its parachute, and refuels for another mission—as well as theater familiarization.
The bombers were also escorted by Czech fighter aircraft during last week's exercises. The B-52s had been previously escorted by British Typhoons and Portuguese F-15s while en route to RAF Fairford. The bomber aircraft have been further integrated with British Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) to conduct bilateral close air support training. The mission focused on enhancing readiness and interoperability for the controllers responsible for coordinating airstrikes to support ground forces.
"Operations like these truly enhance our interoperability with our Allies and Partners," said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Air Forces Africa, and NATO's Allied Air Command. Harrigian added that they were “baking-in” necessary skills so that combined capabilities and readiness are increased while allowing allied bombers to have flexible and agile options.
While the deployment of the Cold War-era strategic heavy bombers began before Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the B-52s have remained present on NATO's eastern front since Russia raised its nuclear alert level. Putin ordered an exercise of Russia's strategic deterrence forces that will include intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarines, and heavy bombers—Russia's nuclear triad—after the United States deployed the B-52s to the United Kingdom.
Over the weekend, Russian president Vladimir Putin instructed his military to "introduce a special combat service regime in the Russian army's defense forces." Putin accused "top officials in NATO's leading countries" of "making aggressive statements against our country."
Putin has also condemned the growing list of sanctions and restrictions from the West that have targeted Russia and Putin himself.
The continued patrols are likely meant to send a strong message to the Kremlin.
The United States, France, and the United Kingdom are the only nuclear powers within NATO, but a number of allied nations operate dual-use aircraft capable of delivering U.S. nuclear weapons, Newsweek reported.
"A number of NATO member countries contribute a dual-capable aircraft (DCA) capability to the Alliance," a NATO statement announced last week. "These aircraft are central to NATO's nuclear deterrence mission and are available for nuclear roles at various levels of readiness. In their nuclear role, the aircraft are equipped to carry nuclear bombs in a conflict and personnel are trained accordingly."
The United States maintains absolute control and custody of the nuclear weapons that are deployed in Europe, but other "Allies provide military support for the DCA mission with conventional forces and capabilities."
In a concerning development, Russian ally Belarus recently announced that it passed a referendum in favor of renouncing its non-nuclear status, suggesting that it would allow for the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.